Mount Everest is the grave of over two hundred bodies that cannot be recovered or buried.
What’s That Story?
**Disclaimer: This article will talk about death and feature pictures of corpses. If that bothers you, please don’t continue reading.**
Looming over the north east border of Nepal on the feet of the Chinese border stands the Earth’s tallest above-sea mountain. Known to locals as Sagarmāthā to the Nepalese and Chomolungma in Tibet, Mount Everest and her summit has long been a symbol of awe and the ultimate challenge for mankind.
The earliest surveys of Everest date back to expeditions of the Qing Empire in 1715 and came to light of the European eye in 1802 during the Great Trigonometric Survey of India by the British in an attempt to fix locations, heights, and names of the world’s highest mountains. While the survey intended to keep as many of the local names of mountains, ranges, and landmarks as possible, the surveyors agreed that you could not find a common name of the mountain due to so many surrounding names from isolates peoples. In 1847, Andrew Waugh and his team agreed that the mountain should be named after Welsh surveyor Sir George Everest, who was Waugh’s predecessor as the Surveyor General of India. Everest himself disliked the idea and argued that his name could not even be written in Hindi or pronounced by the locals, but the suggestion of his name prevailed and in 1865, the Royal Geographical Society officially adopted Mount Everest as the name of the highest mountain in the world.
Holding the spot as the tallest mountain has attracted many climbers over the years that go about two main routes towards the summit. The first is the “standard route” from the southeast in Nepal, and the second is the north side in Tibet. Though the standard route poses no particularly technical climbing challenges, climbers face dangers such as altitude sickness, weather, wind, avalanches, and ice falls. According to the BBC, nearly 300 people hae died on Everest, and over 200 of the bodies remain on the mountain.
The movie Everest (2015) uses the line, “Human beings simply aren’t built to function at the cruising altitude of a 747”. Because of the difficulty of breathing, the limit of carry capacity means that most people that die on Everest must be left behind. In fact, the corpses on Everest serve as trail markers to fellow climbers. For years, the most famous corpse was simply known as “Green Boots”, named for his neon green hiking boots and the anonymity of his identity for many years.
Green Boots’ identity has not been officially confirmed, though he is believed to be Tsewang Paljor, a climber from India who died on Everest in 1996. His body rests curled up in a limestone alcove cave at 27,890 feet (8,500 m) and is littered with oxygen bottles. In 2014, Green Boots went missing and his current location is unknown and is believed to have been either moved and buried, or has simply been blown away and covered with snow. In 2017, a body was discovered hanging alongside a tent and other debris on the side of a cliff-face, and some suspect that the body may be Green Boots, though the feet are out of view.
“Sleeping Beauty” is a nickname left with the body of Francys Distefano-Arsentiev, who passed while descending Everest in 1998. She became the first American woman to reach the summit of Everest without the aid of bottled oxygen. She has previously failed at two attempts, but succeeded on her third. Her and her husband, Sergei Arsentiev, had made the final climb to the summit late in the evening, and were forced to spend another night above 8000 meters where they became separated in the dark. Her husband made it safely to base camp the following day only to discover his wife hadn’t made it. He immediately left back up the mountain to find her, carrying oxygen bottles and medicine with him this time.
Details of her death are vague, but an Uzbek team reported encountering Francys half-conscious due to oxygen deprivation and frostbite. They gave her oxygen and carried her as far as they could until their own supplies were depleted, where they became too fatigued to continue. As the Uzbek climbers descended, they encountered her husband on his way up to find her. Her body was left where it fell for eleven years until it was ceremoniously hidden from view in 2007 in an expedition to bury bodies left on the mountain known as “the Tao of Everest”. Her husband continued his search for his wife and went missing in the attempt. The next year, Jake Norton discovered Sergei’s body lower on the mountain face where he had apparently suffered a fatal fall while attempting to rescue his wife.
David Sharp was an English mountaineer who’s death on Everest has been the subject of much controversy as he was passed unassisted by a number of climbers has he died on his descent from the summit. Sharp made three attempts at summiting Everest in his lifetime. On the first expedition in 2003, he acclimated well and was regarded as the strongest team member, though he never reached the summit due to the beginning stages of frostbite. He returned with another group in 2004 and climbed to 27,887 feet, but did not reach the summit. Again, he contracted frostbite on his fingers.
Two years later, Sharp returned for a third time to attempt the climb on a solo expedition in which he intended to reach the summit without supplementary oxygen, a feat that even the Sherpas consider to be risky and ill advised. He was climbing using a minimal climb kit that is estimated to have cost little over $7000 USD and managed to book an expedition fee of $1000 USD, whereas the average fee through a proper agency costs from $20,000 to $30,000 USD. Sharp was excited that he had found such a good deal and looked forward to being able to climb without the hindrance of a climb team. Sharp began his trek up the mountain without a radio and only carried two emergency bottle of oxygen (about an 8 to 10 hours supply for high altitude).
Sharp spent several days at base camp and made many small climbs to acclimate himself to the
altitude. Late in the evening of May 13th, he set up for the summit. It is unknown if Sharp made it to the summit, or turned around near the top, but was forced to camp exposed on his descent. There, he succumbed to the elements due to a likely combination of equipment failure, lack of oxygen, and one of the coldest nights of the climbing season. His situation was not immediately known for a number of reasons, the first being that he chose to climb solo and without sharing his plotted path with any guides. Sharp’s exposed camp, or bivouac, was set up in the cave of Green Boots. There, he was passed by several expeditions who supposedly mistook him for Green Boots, and by the time another expedition reached him, he was unresponsive to oxygen and later died alone next to Green Boots on May 5th, 2006. His body remains on the mountain, though it has since been moved out of sight.
- Many people argue that though Everest once held itself as a challenge, many high profile climbers claim that the Everest expedition leaves nothing now except an excuse to spend money and buy bragging rights. It is said that the true challenge is to “climb Everest and not tell anyone”.
- The fastest ascent of Everst was completed by Lakpa Gelu Sherpa of Nepal in 10 hours and 56 minutes via the Standard Route, and the Tibetan side record is help by Hans Kammerlander in 16 hours and 45 minutes.
- The oldest person to climb Everest was 80 years and 224 days old. The Youngest was 13 years and 10 months old.