Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Over 200 Dead Bodies on Mount Everest

As of mid-2011, Mount Everest has claimed the lives of over 216 known mountain climbers. The area above 26,000 feet is called “the Death Zone”, where breathing fresh oxygen from canisters is necessary for all but the most experienced climbers.
The atmospheric pressure is about a third of that at sea level, meaning there is about one third the amount of oxygen to breathe.  The air is so thin recovery of bodies has proven impossible.  Given this, many victims lay where they took their last breath.

Tensing Norgay and Edmund Hilary on Mount Everest, May 28 1953
Tensing Norgay and Edmund Hilary on Mount Everest, May 28 1953

Sergei and Francys Arsentiev

“PLEASE don’t leave me,” the dying woman cried.  Two climbers heard the screams of Francys Arsentiev, an American climber who had fallen after succumbing to snow blindness and found herself separated from her husband.  They were in the death zone, they were low on oxygen, and the woman was on the side of a steep cliff; carrying her was not an option.  The trip just to get down to her would be a risk of their own lives. Despite the risks, the two climbers – Ian Woodall and Cathy O’Dowd – climbed down to her and did what they could to give her assistance.
But it was too late.  Ian and Cathy administered oxygen and tended to Fran, but there was nothing they could do. They returned to base camp to seek help and report their findings.

Eight years later the two climbers would return (above). In an attempt to give Francys a makeshift high-altitude burial, they would place an American flag on her body along with a note from her family.
At the time of Francys’ death in 1998, no one knew what had happened to her husband and climbing partner Sergei. He had been climbing with her and had disappeared around the same time; all that had been found were his pick axe and rope. On the day Francys died, other climbers had last seen Sergei far ahead of Francys on the descent after the two had accidentally become separated.
Sergei & Francys
Looking for his wife, Sergei later backtracked toward the summit despite knowing he did not have enough Oxygen to last. His exposure to the harsh conditions on Everest so far had been all he could handle, and he was beginning to suffer from frostbite. Still, Sergei would not leave his wife behind.
Sergei had made his way back to Francys, and descended toward the cliff she lay on as she screamed for help. Sadly, he fell to his death trying to reach his wife.
(Click thumbnails to enlarge)
Everest-Francys-2 Everest-Francys-3 Everest-Francys-1
Francys Arsentiev before her death; Francys memorial

Green Boots

PaljorPossibly the most famous body on Everest is that of “Green Boots,” an Indian climber named Tsewang Paljor. Paljor was a Constable with the Indo-Tibetan Border Police who took his last breath on the 10th of May during the famous 1996 Mount Everest Disaster. Paljor was part of a three-man group that was attempting to be the first Indian team to ascend Mt. Everest from the Northeastern route. The weather that season was worse than otheryears and 1996 proved to be one of the deadliest seasons for Mount Everest climbers. When the storm rolled in, visibility went to zero and the temperature dropped considerably.  Separated from the climbers in his group and suffering from the cold, Paljor found a small cave and huddled inside for protection from the elements.  Little did he know that would be his resting place for the next 15 years. (below)

George Mallory

One of the more storied climbers that met his fate on Everest was George Mallory, a famous English Mountaineer.  In 1924, Mallory fell to his death during a storm while attempting to be the first to reach the summit of Everest. His body was discovered in 1999 during the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition. Decades earlier, Chinese climbers had reported seeing a “European body” laying face down on a shelf off the main trail. Given the description and the date of the find, experts had always assumed it was the body of Andrew Irvine.  Irvine was another famous English Mountaineer who had attempted the ascent of Everest with Mallory and perished in the same storm.
During a 1933 Everest expedition, climbers found Andrew Irvine’s axe and rope.  Because of this, it was widely believe to be Irvine’s body discovered by the Chinese. When the body was found during the 1999 search expedition, it was discovered to be that of George Mallory, not Irvine.  Mallory was found face down in a bunch of shale with his arms spread out and up.  His skin was in remarkably good condition but was tanned from 75 years of sun exposure.  After examining the body, experts hypothesized that Mallory’s rope had failed as he was found with a short severed rope tied around his waist.  He was also found with a golf ball-sized hole in his forehead, indicating he might have suffered blunt force trauma from striking a sharp rock.  Andrew Irvine has never been found.
Video of the Mallory Body Find on Everest:
The morbidity of seeing hundreds of bodies along one’s ascent up Mount Everest is only trumped by the fascination of the levels of preservation of many of the bodies.  The temperatures are ideal for long-term preservation; perhaps some of these corpses will serve as studies for generations thousands of years from now.
Or maybe not?
The Nepalese consider Mount Everest sacred, and do not want it to become a graveyard.  Many parents of those who have perished have asked for the bodies to be left as they were when they died, but this is against Nepalese law.  As soon as a body can be reached for retrieval, it is and then is brought down for identification and burial. Those too high for retrieval will have stone tombs (called cairns) constructed around the corpses to shield them from the elements and the view of other climbers.  A few corpses located on shallow ledges were rolled off to be buried in the snow below, away from the trail.
(Click thumbnails to enlarge)

David Sharp

A more recent story is that of David Sharp.  David was an English mountaineer who, in 2005, ascended Everest in a group but attempted the final climb by himself.  At one point he stopped in a small cave and eventually froze to the point he could not move.  As he lay near death below the summit, he was passed by over 40 other climbers both on their way up and their way down.
Sharp had stopped to rest and protect himself from the elements in the same cave Green Boots had used.  Since David was not moving, the 40 climbers that passed by had either not seen him or assumed he was Green Boots.  A group of sherpas in a later expedition on the way up to the summit noticed Sharp just off the trail, alive and moaning. When the sherpas reached David, he was not coherent and badly frostbitten – but he was able to say his name and which party he was with.
After giving David some oxygen, the sherpas attempted to help him climb down but he could not stand under his own power. Realizing Sharp was not going to be able to move, the sherpas pulled David into the sunlight hoping the sun exposure would warm him up.  By the time the sherpas returned to camp to report their find, David was dead. The last party to see Sharp alive was the documentary crew filming the ascent of double-amputee Mark Inglis.  Since they were filming, they had cameras rolling when they approached David and the footage was used in the documentary.
“Dying for Everest” – a short documentary outlining the David Sharp case including video of Sharp next to Green Boots:
Below: David Sharp’s memorial, David Sharp, and Green Boots’ Cave where David Sharp was found
Some died peacefully in their sleep, while others (who fell and/or became injured) were left to die slowly of hypothermia.  Until recently, the statistics were nearly one in four climbers dies attempting to reach the summit.  Advancements in technology and experience have led to a better survival rate of climbers.  Currently about 1,000 climbers a year attempt to reach the summit, and on average 15-20 perish.
Expeditions are the primary source of income for Nepal, and licenses to ascend start at around $25,000.  If you have lesser experience and want to ascend with an experienced group, several companies will lead you to the top with a team of sherpas for prices starting around $40,000 per person.

Quick video of a discovered body:  
Satellite & Map: here
* May the climbers who have perished on Mount Everest rest in peace. *


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