Mount Everest serves not only as a testament to the majesty of nature's beauty, but as an alluring siren song calling to the heart of every adventurer. Despite the risks, thousands swarm to Nepal every year in an effort to conquer the tallest point on Earth. Many of them never leave.
Over 250 bodies remain on Everest, giving it claim to the title of the world's largest open-air graveyard. While most Mount Everest deaths occur due to avalanches, falls, and exposure to the harsh climate, the area known as the “Death Zone” holds a terribly high body count and comes with its own unique set of problems.
The Death Zone is commonly known as the area above 26,000 feet. When the human body enters this altitude, it slowly starts to die. Then it becomes a race against the clock for climbers to make it from this mark to the peak and back again before their body fails them. Since oxygen at this level is only a third of what it is at sea level, climbers may find themselves sluggish, disoriented, and fatigued. The pressure makes weight feel ten times heavier and causes extreme distress on organs. Because of these severe effects, climbers usually only have a window of 48 hours inside the Death Zone and are strongly urged to use supplemental oxygen at all times.
If someone dies on Everest, it's almost impossible to retrieve their body, especially in the Death Zone. Due to unbearable weather conditions, severe lack of oxygen, pressure on dead weight, and the fact that many bodies on Mount Everest are completely frozen onto the mountain face, most corpses are left exactly as they fall. Attempts are sometimes made to retrieve the body of a loved one, but those expeditions can cost upward of $25,000 and are extremely dangerous for the retrieval team.
Overall, standard protocol is to simply let these figures, frozen in the final moments of death, become a permanent addition to the rocky terrain. It would make sense that the mountain's nickname is EVER REST.
As spring 2019 rolls around, the snow on Everest melts exposing bodies buried under the ice for years. As more bodies appear, the Expedition Operators Association of Nepal is concerned about how to retrieve them. Recovering remains from higher altitudes can cost up to $80,000. In the meantime, some climbers have begun referring to the deceased as landmarks.
Climbers taking the North Col route to Everest's elusive summit inevitably end up passing the mountains most infamous landmark, “Green Boots.” While it sounds like a unique protrusion or hidden crevice on Everest's face, Green Boots is actually the frozen body of a fallen climber that earned his nickname because of the brightly colored hiking boots that he was wearing when he died.
While Green Boots's identity has always been hotly contested, he is widely believed to be Indian climber Tsewang Paljor. Paljor was part of a high-class Indian expedition to summit Everest that yielded only one survivor, Harbhajan Singh. Singh recalled that the expedition was marred by mistakes and he had urged the other three men to abandon their quest due to inclement weather heading in.
Singh suspects his men succumbed to “summit fever." Summit fever is a term used when climbers abandon thoughts of safety, and often their own morals, because they are close to reaching the summit and become blinded by the drive to cross the finish line over all else.
“Don't be overconfident,” Singh insisted. “Listen to me. Please come down. The sun is going to set.”
And while the men continued on and eventually did end up reaching the summit, they encountered the terrible blizzard of 1996 on the trek back down. With zero visibility in a fury of wind and snow, Paljor and his two comrades were lost to the brutality of the mountain.
Over time, Paljor simply became known as "Green Boots" and has become a permanent fixture on the North Col passage. For the past two decades, climbers have used Green Boots as a macabre trail marker to gauge how far they had left to go on their own race to the summit.
As of 2014, Green Boots was finally dropped to a lower location over the side of the mountain, where he joined the bodies of other fallen climbers that have been cleared off of the main route.
Francys Arsentiev and her husband Sergei were avid climbers who sought to conquer Everest in 1998. Francys had a goal to become the first American woman to summit Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen. After two aborted attempts, she finally succeeded but was never able to celebrate her achievement.
Due to their lack of supplemental oxygen, the couple moved slowly and were not able to summit until very late in the day on May 22nd, which forced them to spend another night in the Death Zone. The couple became separated during this final evening and Sergei made his way down to Camp IV, assuming that his wife had done the same. Upon discovering her absence, Sergei raced back to the top with oxygen and medicine in hopes of rescuing his wife.
While accounts vary, on May 23rd, a Uzbek team found Francys half-alive and unable to move on her own. They carried her down as far as they could until their own oxygen ran out and they had to leave Francys and descend to camp. Along the way they passed Sergei on his way up to her. He was never seen alive again.
It was Sleeping Beauty's haunting final hour that cemented her legend. On May 24th, climbers Ian Woodall and Cathy O'Dowd saw a body raggedly jerking in the shadows of the First Step, one of three steps on the northeast ridge. Francys was severely oxygen deprived, frostbitten, and still attached to her climbing line. She kept murmuring, “Don't leave me here. Don't leave me here to die.” The team abandoned their attempt to summit and spent over an hour trying to save her.
Between the perilous location, Francys slipping into unconsciousness, and their own oxygen running out, the team made the painful decision to leave her and return to camp. For nine years, climbers scaled around the frozen beauty who had become a part of Everest's landscape.
In 2007, Woodall returned to the mountain and dropped Sleeping Beauty to a lower face where she can slumber for eternity, no longer a summit marker for other climbers.
In 2006, an experienced climber froze to death near the summit of Mt. Everest. With nearly one out of every ten climbers perishing atop the mountain on average, frozen corpses have become almost run-of-the-mill. Yet it was the death of David Sharp that nearly tore the entire climbing community apart.
British mountaineer David Sharp made his third trek to the top of Everest without the aid of oxygen, radios, Sherpas, or teammates. His first two attempts were aborted due to perilous conditions, including ravaging frostbite that took several of his toes. He successfully summitted Everest on the third try and, during his descent, stopped to rest inside Green Boots's cave, mere feet from Green Boots himself. Being disoriented and suffering exhaustion, Sharp drew his legs to his chest, rested his head upon his knees, and never woke up.
However, David Sharp did not perish right away. Over 40 different climbers passed him on the mountain and noted he was still alive but in distress. Outrage poured from around the world at the knowledge that Sharp was left moaning and murmuring to climbers who refused to abandon their quest to the top in order to help him.
Sir Edmund Hillary, who was the first person to ever successfully summit Mount Everest, spoke out against Mark Inglis and his team for allegedly seeing Sharp's distress and continuing on towards the top.
“The whole attitude toward climbing Mount Everest has become rather horrifying,” Hillary said. “A human life is far more important than just getting to the top of a mountain.”
The unwritten code among climbers is to abandon their quests in order to help others in peril. On Everest, many believe that the standard code does not apply due to the difficulties involved in climbing the tallest mountain on earth. Many argue that it's every man for himself and that Everest has become a moral “gray area." This modern mentality has pushed the climbing world into civil war, with Sharp's death only further highlighting the issue.
Inglis and his team attest that Sharp was completely frostbitten, incoherent, and beyond saving when they found him. Claims have been made that many did try to help him but seeing he was too far gone, left him and continued their journey. Others stated that an immobile Sharp was mistaken for Green Boots and overlooked. Many cry out that Sharp was left on purpose, becoming just another victim of climber greed and summit fever.
The sad truth is that it's too hard to save yourself on Everest, let alone rescue others.
“Because it's there.”
With those three words to describe attempting the insurmountable, George Mallory not only cemented his own Everest fame but an entire Western mentality for future generations.
George Mallory was one of the most famous expert climbers of the early 20th century. He was part of the first three British expeditions to the summit and has the morbid distinction of being the oldest known corpse on Mount Everest. A corpse that was missing for over 75 years.
During his third attempt in 1924, Mallory and teammate Sandy Irvine made a push towards the top and were never seen again. Not only was their cause of death a mystery but, for over half a century, no one was certain if Mallory had actually reached the top or not. That would change history as we know it and make him the first known summit.
An investigative expedition was launched in 1999 to find the duo and shed light on the last hours of one of the world's most famous adventurers. The team found Mallory's sun-bleached and mummified body on a low face on the north side of the mountain. Due to severe rope jerk injuries on his torso, the theory is that he was still tethered to Irvine when one of them fell off the mountain and pulled the other man with him.
There was also a golf-ball size puncture wound in his forehead that is thought to be the fatal blow. The team was led to believe that as Mallory slid down the rock face he tried in desperation to slow his descent. He must have caught on a tilted slab and bounced off the rock, causing it to smash straight into his head.
The mystery still remains to this day if Mallory and Irvine actually summitted. Teams are still searching for a photograph that Mallory was planning on leaving on the peak and a camera that Irvine had brought with them. Experts for Kodak have confirmed that if found and handled properly, the film could still be developed.
Irvine's body is still missing and, with him, the possible proof of the first ever Everest summit.