Featured Image: At 8,848 m, Everest is the highest peak on Earth.
Monday, 1 July 2019, New York, NY – Ever since Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand, and Tenzing Norgay of Nepal, made the first confirmed summit of Everest in 1953, the dream of climbing Everest has spurred millions of climbers to make the ascent. But recently, Everest has had a problem: severe overcrowding. In this post, we’ll discuss the problems Everest has had with overcrowding, and how this has resulted in some of the deadliest climbing seasons ever. We’ll also discuss the history of the mountain, and some of the most famous bodies that rest on the mountain to this day.
Everest’s impressive stature draws from its location at the dramatic collision point of the Indian and Eurasian plates. As these plates crashed into each other, Everest was pushed higher and higher, until it eventually became the tallest mountain in the world. Nobody even attempted to climb Everest until the early 1920’s, which brings us to one of the most puzzling mysteries in the history of mountaineering: the mystery of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine. These two British dudes attempted to reach Everest’s summit during a British expedition in 1924. The two men were last seen a mere 250 m away from the summit, but they disappeared into the clouds and were never seen again. That is, until 1999, when George Mallory’s body was found at an elevation of 8,155 m. Andrew Irvine’ body has not yet been found. The fact that these two men died so close to the summit has sparked debate over whether or not they were actually the first to get to the summit. Nobody will ever know. The first confirmed summit of Everest would not occur for another 29 years.
Climbing Everest has exploded in popularity. From the time Hillary and Norgay made the first confirmed summit in 1953, up until the late 1980’s, there were less than 300 total ascents. Beginning in the 1990’s, the advent of commercial expeditions, where sherpas (mountaineers who assist Everest climbers) carry clients’ baggage and assist them up the mountain, would change the mountain forever. By 2003, there were over 1,900 total ascents, and by 2018, over 9,000 ascents has been made. This precipitous surge in ascents has had real consequences, and has led to overcrowding problems, unqualified clients summiting the mountain, and loads of garbage and feces accumulating on the mountain.
Top: Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay
Bottom: “Human traffic jam” on Everest due to overcrowding
The Morbid Side of Everest
Over 300 people have died attempting to reach the summit of Everest, dating all the way back to the 1920’s. Virtually all of them have died either from hypothermia, altitude sickness, or exhaustion (or probably all three). Because of the cold environment and high elevation, bodies tend to be extremely well preserved over extremely long periods of time. Because we can’t go over all 300 dead bodies on the mountain, let’s talk about three of the most famous ones.
The first corpse we’ll talk about is that of an unidentified man known as Green Boots, named for, well, um, the green boots that he was wearing. Despite being officially unidentified, he is very likely to be Tsewang Paljor, an Indian climber who died on the mountain in 1996. Green Boots was killed during an avalanche that occurred on the mountain that year. For over 20 years, every person who summited Everest passed by this corpse. He was reported missing in 2014, only to be rediscovered in 2017. He was probably covered up by some stones.
The corpse of Green Boots. He is used as a landmark on the way to the summit.
The next corpse we’ll discuss is the corpse of Hannelore Schmatz, a German mountaineer who was the first woman to die on Everest, way back in 1979. The majority of climbers make it to the summit, but the descent is always the deadliest part because many climbers become too exhausted to make it back down. As she and her husband were descending, Schmatz’s husband froze to death, distressing both her and the sherpa she was travelling with. Just 100 m away from Camp IV, Schmatz sat down and said “Water, Water!” to her Sherpa, and died. Her body remained there for years afterward. An Everest climber describes her body thusly:
“It’s not far now. I can’t escape the sinister guard. Approximately 100 m above Camp IV, she sits, leaning against her pack, as if taking a short break. A woman with her eyes wide open and her hair waving with each gust of wind. It’s the corpse of Hannelore Schmatz, the wife of the leader of a 1979 German expedition. She summited, but died descending. Yet it feels as if she follows me with her eyes as I pass by. Her presence reminds me that we are here only on the conditions of the mountain.”
Two men attempting to recover the corpse ended up falling to their deaths. Eventually, Schmatz’s corpse became buried under the snow and was thankfully removed from sight.
Corpse of Hannelore Schmatz
There is one more corpse we’ll discuss, that of David Sharp. He was an English mountaineer who summited Everest in 2006. There were a few slight problems though. He did so alone, without a sherpa, without enough bottled oxygen, and without a radio to use in an emergency. He began his descent too late in the day and by nightfall he was at 8,500 m. He sought shelter in a rocky overhang, near what is now known as the Green Boots Cave. Yes, David Sharp and Green Boots both died in the same area, appropriately known as “The Death Zone”. While taking refuge in the cave, he ran out of oxygen and began freezing. Over 40 people passed by his corpse, but none of them helped him because they believed (and rightly so) that helping him would endanger their own lives. Others believed he was too far in his final throes to be worth trying to save. In case you haven’t already figured out what happened to Sharp, he died. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a picture of his corpse like we could with the other two, so here’s a photo of George Mallory’s extremely well preserved century-old corpse:
George Mallory’s long-lost corpse was discovered in 1999
Even though climbing Everest has been more popular and commercialised than ever before, it has not become any less dangerous. Many climbers are afflicted by what’s known as “Summit Fever” where they become so eager to reach the top that they forget to save energy for the descent. Thus, the deadliest part of the Everest journey is on the way back down the mountain rather than up it. So, the point is, climbing Everest should be taken seriously, and should only be ascended by those who are qualified to do so. If people remember these two things, Everest will, maybe, become a little less deadly.