According to some estimates, Mount Everest is home to over 250 bodies and is sometimes referred to as the world's largest open-air graveyard. While most Mount Everest deaths occur due to avalanches, falls, and exposure, an area known as the "Death Zone" is especially treacherous and is a nearly impossible area to retrieve bodies from.
The Death Zone is commonly known as the area above 26,000 feet. When the human body enters this altitude, it slowly starts to shut down. Climbers must race against the clock to reach Everest's peak and descend back out of the Death Zone before their bodies fail them. Due to unbearable weather conditions, many of Everest's victims cannot be retrieved and are left exactly where they died. Below are some of the most famous stories of those left behind.
'Green Boots' Has Become A Marker To Gauge Distance To The Summit
Climbers taking the North Col route to Everest's elusive summit inevitably end up passing the mountain's most infamous landmark, "Green Boots." While Green Boots's identity has 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. After reaching the summit, the team encountered the terrible blizzard of 1996 on the trek back down. With zero visibility due to wind and snow, Paljor and his two comrades were lost to the mountain.
For the past two decades, climbers have used Green Boots as a macabre trail marker to gauge how far they have left to go on their own race to the summit. In 2014, Green Boots was finally dropped to a lower location over the side of the mountain, where he joined the remains of other fallen climbers who have been cleared off of the main route.
One Climber Was Nicknamed 'Sleeping Beauty' After Getting Trapped In The Death Zone
Francys Arsentiev and her husband Sergei sought to conquer Everest in 1998. Arsentiev wanted to become the first American woman to summit Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen. The couple eventually became separated, and on May 23, an Uzbek team found Arsentiev half-alive and unable to move. They carried her down as far as they could until their own oxygen ran out and they were forced to leave Arsentiev before descending to camp. Sergei was never seen alive again.
The following day, the team returned to Arsentiev, who 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, Arsentiev slipping into unconsciousness, and their own oxygen running out, the team made the painful decision to leave her and return to camp. In 2007, "Sleeping Beauty" was dropped to a lower face where she would no longer be a summit marker for other climbers.
David Sharp's Demise Outraged The World And Called The 'Code Of The Mountain' Into Question
In 2006, British mountaineer David Sharp made his third trek to the top of Everest without the aid of oxygen, radios, Sherpas, or teammates. Disoriented and suffering from 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.
The unwritten code among climbers is to abandon their quests in order to help others in peril. Claims have been made that many did try to help him, but seeing he was too far gone, left him and continued their journey. Some said that Sharp was merely another victim of climber greed and so-called "summit fever."
One Climber's Fate Was A Mystery For 75 Years
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 Everest's summit and has the morbid distinction of being the oldest known body on Mount Everest. During his third attempt in 1924, Mallory and teammate Sandy Irvine made a push toward the top and were never seen again. Not only was the cause of their passing a mystery, but for over half a century, no one was certain whether Mallory had actually reached the top or not.
In 1999, an expedition team found Mallory's sun-bleached and mummified remains on a low face of the mountain's north side. Due to severe rope jerk injuries on his torso, theorists surmise that he was still tethered to Irvine when one of them fell off the mountain and pulled the other man with him.
The mystery still remains to this day if Mallory and Irvine actually summited. Teams continue to search for a photograph that Mallory planned to leave on the peak, as well as a camera that Irvine brought with them.
Hannelore Schmatz Was The First Woman To Perish On Mount Everest
Hannelore Schmatz was a German mountaineer who successfully summitted Everest in October 1979. On the way down, Hannelore and her teammate, Ray Genet, were overcome with exhaustion and decided to spend the night inside the Death Zone. A severe snowstorm during the night resulted in Genet's death from hypothermia. Shortly afterwards, Hannelore succumbed to exhaustion a mere 330 feet from camp. Her final words were reportedly, "Water... water."
Attempts to retrieve Hannelore's remains in 1984 resulted in the deaths of two men, who fell due to the extreme winds on the southern slope. For years, climbers at Camp IV would gaze upon Hannelore's remains, still leaning against her long-since-deteriorated backpack. As time dragged on, she simply became known as "The German Woman." Eventually, the high winds swept Hannelore's remains down the Kangshung face.
A Mass Of Remains Has Become Known As 'Rainbow Valley'
Along the Northeast Ridge Route near Everest's summit lies Rainbow Valley, a macabre area that earned its named from the vibrantly colored jackets and climbing gear that belonged to climbers who perished while climbing the mountain. Throughout the years, climbers have been known to move remains over the mountainside into Rainbow Valley or cut the ropes of mummified bodies so the way is less hazardous for those embarking on the trail.
According to Nepalese law, Everest is sacred and any remains are to be removed immediately; however, retrieving remains from the Death Zone is practically impossible, meaning the body count in Rainbow Valley will likely continue to grow in future years.