There have been over 200 climbing deaths on Mount Everest. Many of the bodies remain to serve as a grave reminder for those who follow.
Mount Everest holds the impressive title of ‘tallest mountain in the world,’ but many people don’t know about its other, more gruesome title: the world’s largest open-air graveyard.
Since 1953 when Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay scaled the summit for the first time, over 4,000 people have followed in their footsteps, braving the harsh climate and dangerous terrain for a few moments of glory.
Some of them, however, never left the mountain.
The top portion of the mountain, roughly everything above 26,000 feet, is known as the “death zone.”
There, the oxygen levels are only at a third of what they are at sea level, and the barometric pressure causes weight to feel ten times heavier. The combination of the two makes climbers feel sluggish, disoriented and fatigued and can cause extreme distress on organs. For this reason, climbers don’t usually last more than 48 hours in this area.
The climbers that do are usually left with lingering effects. The ones that aren’t so lucky are left where they fall.
Standard protocol is just to leave the dead where they died, and so these corpses remain to spend eternity on the mountaintop, serving as a warning to climbers as well as gruesome mile markers.
One of the most famous corpses, known as “Green Boots” was passed by almost every climber to reach the death zone. The identity of Green Boots is highly contested, but it is most widely believed that it is Tsewang Paljor, an Indian climber who died in 1996.
Before the body’s recent removal, Green Boot’s body rested near a cave that all climbers must pass on their way to the peak. The body became a grim landmark used to gauge how close one is to the summit. He is famous for his green boots, and because, according to one seasoned adventurer “about 80% of people also take a rest at the shelter where Green Boots is, and it’s hard to miss the person lying there.”
In 2006 another climber joined in Green Boots in his cave, sitting, arms around his knees in the corner, forever.
David Sharp was attempting to summit Everest on his own, a feat which even the most advanced climbers would warn against. He had stopped to rest in Green Boots’ cave, as so many had done before him. Over the course of several hours, he froze to death, his body stuck in a huddled position, just feet from one of the most famous Mount Everest bodies.
Unlike Green Boots, however, who had likely gone unnoticed during his death due to the small amount of people hiking at that time, at least 40 people passed by Sharp that day. Not one of them stopped.
Sharpe’s death sparked a moral debate about the culture of Everest climbers. Though many had passed by Sharp as he lay dying, and their eyewitness accounts claim he was visibly alive and in distress, no one offered their help.
Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to ever summit the mountain, criticized the climbers who had passed by Sharp and attributed it to the mind-numbing desire to reach the top.
“If you have someone who is in great need and you are still strong and energetic, then you have a duty, really, to give all you can to get the man down and getting to the summit becomes very secondary,” he told the New Zealand Herald, after news of Sharp’s death broke.
“I think the whole attitude towards climbing Mt Everest has become rather horrifying,” he added. “The people just want to get to the top. They don’t give a damn for anybody else who may be in distress and it doesn’t impress me at all that they leave someone lying under a rock to die.”
The media termed this phenomenon “summit fever,” and it’s happened more times than most people realize.
In 1999, the oldest known body was found on Everest.