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Dec. 16, 2021

Ep. 64: Deaths on Everest

The weather outside is frightful...but not as frightful as the weather on Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world and highest point on Earth! In honor of the chilly season we're taking a dangerous journey to explore the most horrific...


The weather outside is frightful...but not as frightful as the weather on Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world and highest point on Earth! In honor of the chilly season we're taking a dangerous journey to explore the most horrific tragedies and creepiest facts about the world's tallest peak...including the fact that the mountain is literally littered with corpses.

Yes, the culmination of mountaineering achievement - summiting Mt. Everest - isn't possible without basically climbing over the dead, semi-mummified bodies of unsuccessful climbers past. These include George Mallory, who may have been the first person to summit Everest (but didn't make it down alive); "Green Boots", the horrific so-called mile marker made by the body of a deceased climber; and the victims of the 1996 Everest disaster and 2014/2015 Everest avalanches. Who knew the pinnacle of, well, pinnacles was so freaky and deadly?

Join us on an expedition through Everest mountaineering history, the tragedies along the way...and the remains of those who never made it back to Base Camp alive.
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Transcript

You know that feeling of stumbling upon a weird obsession? Well, I had that feeling several years ago when I came across this Cracked article I believe was titled “6 Creepy Places Where Dead Bodies Just Lie Out in the Open”. Because, yknow, that’s the kind of thing I read in my relaxation time, I guess. One of the entries on this list was Mount Everest, and it took me by surprise. Like, completely gobsmacked me, because it was never something I’d thought or heard about, and I couldn’t really care less about mountaineering. Here’s the main part of the Everest entry: “Every year, hundreds of people pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of getting to climb Mount Everest -- but what the Nepalese tourism board doesn't exactly like to advertise is that around 240 climbers have died trying to make the summit, and most of them are still up there. In fact, there is a section of the mountain called Rainbow Valley where dozens of bodies are visible due to their brightly colored climbing jackets.”

WHAT? This was absolutely wild to me. So, of course, I had to learn more. And the idea of mountaineering accidents and especially Everest lore began to wind itself into my brain until, yes, it became a weird obsession, which I will share with you all today. I simply couldn’t deal with the fact that one of the pinnacles of human achievement - summiting Everest - went hand in hand with basically climbing over the corpses of climbers past to get there. As I dove deeper into the subject, I found that the stories of these tragedies were absolutely fascinating. I’ll be covering some of them today, but please keep in mind that most of these accidents impacted those in contemporary times. These are people with close families still out there - so we will try to be as respectful as possible while relaying this fascinating story of 2 sides of the same coin: immense accomplishment and horrific defeat. The Titanic of mountaineering.


We have to begin with the first people to attempt to summit Everest. For a little history, Mount Everest is located in the Mahalangur Himal sub-range of the Himalayas, with the China-Nepal border running across its summit point. In Tibetan the mountain’s name is Chomolungma, which means Mother Goddess of the World - in Nepali the name is Sagarmatha, which has various meanings but can generally be summed up as the Head in the Great Blue Sky. Mount Everest is just over 29,000 feet high and actually getting a touch taller every year, thanks to shifting tectonic plates. This 29,000 feet make it the tallest mountain in the world above sea level, and it’s awe-inspiring nature began to capture minds around the world in the 1800s, when the British began the Great Trigonometric Survey of India to record the locations, heights, and names of the world’s highest mountains. This is where it got the name Everest, by the way, being named after Sir George Everest who was the former Surveyor General of India. Pretty sweet to get such an important locale named after you just because you used to be some guy’s boss. Everest was announced as the official highest mountain and thus, the highest point in the world after several years of calculations in 1856. 

As soon as something is called “the biggest” or “the most” or whatever, people immediately want to make their mark on it. As far as anyone knew, no one had ever summited Everest in the history of the world - so it immediately became the accomplishment that every serious mountaineer coveted. However, Everest is incredibly inhospitable, with serious weather nearly all year round, and it being so high above sea level meant that the higher you went on the mountain, the more your body would suffer. You could develop altitude sickness, which would cause symptoms like dizziness, headache, muscle aches, and nausea. You could also get high altitude pulmonary edema, or high altitude cerebral edema - known as HAPE and HACE - which are buildups of fluids in the lungs and brain, respectively. HAPE and HACE can be extremely dangerous, and even kill you. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, we didn’t have much in the way of proper equipment to deal with these possibilities. There was also the immovable fact that with an altitude of over 8,000 meters, Everest had a death zone - the area where the pressure of oxygen is insufficient to sustain human life for an extended period of time.

In 1921, English mountaineers George Mallory and Guy Bullock discovered the northern approach to the mountain, basically mapping a way to the summit from about 23,000 feet up the mountain. During a 1922 expedition, Australian George Finch climbed using supplemental oxygen for the first time, reaching an altitude of 27,300 feet. This was the first time a human was reported to have climbed above 8,000 meters. George Mallory made another attempt, but didn’t make it. Unfortunately, this was the time of the first major Everest accident - an avalanche on the North Col or side of Everest swept seven of the Sherpa porters into a crevasse, where they were forced to be left and eventually died or had already been killed. Mallory was fully obsessed, however, referring to the idea of reaching the highest point on Earth as a symbol of “man’s desire to conquer the Universe”. He also uttered the famous response to a reporter asking why he wished to climb Everest: “Because it’s there!”

In 1924 George Mallory returned with another group of mountaineers to try and be the first to the summit. Mallory and Geoffrey Bruce gave it a shot, but had to return to camp when weather conditions turned bad. Colonel Felix Norton made the next attempt, managing to reach a bit above 28,000 feet without supplemental oxygen. He couldn’t make it to the summit, though. Mallory brought along a young expedition member, Andrew Irvine, for the final attempt on the summit. On June 8th 1924 they set out for the top of the mountain…and never returned. Mallory’s body wouldn’t be discovered until 1999, when it was found on the North Face of Everest in a snow basin. Irvine’s body still hasn’t been found. Mallory’s body, by the way, was kind of remarkably preserved despite having lain out in the elements for the better part of a century. You see, I assume most of the reason why Everest’s dead are often left out in the open where they were discovered or had died is because of the particular combination of factors that makes it so that bodies on Everest don’t decompose in the same way they do normally. In fact, they often become, well, mummified. They’re basically always frozen, and we know from our last episode on Mercy Brown that can slow or halt normal decomposition. Much of the clothing was still intact, with the name tags still bearing the words G. Leigh Mallory. Most of the skin was now exposed, and had become bleached white with the appearance of porcelain. I couldn’t make out his head in the footage but you could see his back, arms, and legs. By the way - you’ll be able to find pictures of most of the main bodies I’ll be talking about today, but I suggest not going to look. Because, yknow, a body is a body, even if it’s a bleached white mummy. I’ll do my best to describe it all for you, anyway. Mallory was found with a rope-jerk injury around his waist, leading finders to feel that he was roped together with Irvine when one of them slipped. A golf ball sized puncture wound was found in his forehead, which may have indicated his ice axe had struck a rock and bounced off, fatally hitting Mallory in the head as he attempted to slide down the slope. There’s been controversy whether one or both of the men may have made it to the summit before their deaths, making them the true first summiter of Everest, but we’ll probably never know, unless Irvine’s body is ever recovered with his Kodak camera intact. 
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Assorted expeditions continued over the years until 1950, when China took control of Tibet and closed the northern route to Western expeditions. This made people begin to search for a route that would move through Nepal, which is now known as the southern approach. In 1952 Raymond Lambert and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay reached about 28,200 feet up the mountain on the southwest ridge, setting a new altitude record but still not making it to the summit. However, the next time would be the charm.

A short side note - you’ll hear me mentioning sherpas or calling someone “sherpa” throughout the rest of this episode. The Sherpa people are an indigenous group living in the Himalayan valley, and due to their origination in the area they have near-expert experience in mountain climbing, especially in the Himalayas and eventually, Everest. Because of this expertise, they’re almost always hired to take part in Everest expeditions. The word “Sherpa” is often used to mean “mountain guide”, kind of like people will say Kleenex to mean tissue, but they are their own ethnic group. Because they live at such high altitude year round, they are much more accustomed to the low oxygen levels, and their capabilities on expeditions have proven to be really indispensable since they began in the 1920s.

It was with this in mind that Sherpa Tenzing Norgay was invited on another British expedition in 1953. The first pair of climbers on this expedition made it within 330 feet of the summit but were forced to turn back due to oxygen problems. On May 28th, 1953, the next attempt was made by New Zealander Edmund Hillary along with Tenzing Norgay. They reached the summit at 11:30 local time on May 29th. Initially Hillary called it a team effort and refused to state who had truly summited the mountain first, but Tenzing wrote in his 1955 autobiography that Hillary had indeed taken the first step onto the summit. Tenzing however was the first person to have his picture taken at the summit, as Hillary was like “nah I’m good”. Could you imagine?? Turning down THAT photo op? Coming across the first person they’d seen after their summit, Hillary said “Well George, we knocked the bastard off.” Hillary was immediately made a Knight Commander of the British Empire and the news of his achievement made it back to Britain on the day of Queen Elizabeth the 2nd’s coronation, which was called a “coronation gift” by the press. Don’t worry, Tenzing wasn’t Chewbacca’d - he was ineligible for knighting since he was a Nepalise citizen, but Liz did give him the George Medal, awarded for gallantry. 

Throughout the rest of the 50s and 60s others summited Everest, including the firsts from many countries - in America, our first summiter was Jim Whittaker, who reached the top on May 1st, 1963. Things were going fairly well and only a handful of people died on the mountain during this time, in accidents or of altitude sickness. But then, the first major tragedy occured on Everest with the 1970 Mount Everest disaster. A documentary crew had arrived from Canada to follow Yoichiro Miura, a Japanese alpinist, and his attempt to ski down Mount Everest. He did manage to ski 6,600 feet down the mountain, but seven Sherpa members of the team were killed during an avalanche in the Khumbu Icefall. The icefall is located at the head of the Khumbu Glacier and as an icefall is characterized by relatively rapid flow and chaotic crevassed surface, caused in part by gravity. That means giant towers of ice, called seracs, can suddenly collapse with little to no notice, sending chunks ranging in size from that of cars to large houses tumbling down the glacier. Because the icefall is located between Everest Base Camp and the next stop up, Camp 1, there were many people in the area at the time of the avalanche. Those that were killed during this avalanche were Mima Norbu, Nima Dorje, Tshering Tarkey, Pasang, Kunga Norbu, and Kami Tshering. Kayak Tsering was killed a few days later by ice falling from another serac. This was the first notable mass casualty event during a climbing expedition on Everest post-first summit…but, unfortunately, it would not be the last. 

Another avalanche would claim the lives of 6 more in September 1974, during the French West Ridge Direct expedition. 5 of the casualties were Sherpas, which would be a continuing trend in Everest tragedies - the largest group of people by far to be lost during expeditions are hired Sherpas. Those killed in this avalanche were expedition leader Gerard Devouassoux and Sherpas Lhakpa, Sanu Wongal, Pemba Dorje, Nawang Lutuk, and Nima Wangchu. You see, this expedition had arrived late in August, hoping they’d missed the bulk of monsoon season and would have good weather for their ascent. They bet wrong, with monsoons hitting hard as the climbers were spread across the 3 high camps on Everest. The 6 killed in this avalanche were never found, and their memories stood as a reminder that perfect timing when it comes to weather is absolutely essential if you want to summit Everest. 

In 1979 Hannelore Schmatz was climbing with her husband, Gerhard. They respectively became the fourth woman to summit Everest and the oldest man at the time to summit Everest, at 50 years old. While descending, Schmatz along with American Ray Genet stopped to bivouac, or basically set up a tent shelter, at 28,000 feet up the mountain despite their Sherpa guides begging them not to stop. Genet died during the night, but the Sherpa and Schmatz tried to continue the descent, but at 27,200 feet Schmatz sat down, requested water from her Sherpa, and died. Genet’s body would ultimately disappear under the snow, but Schmatz’s body remained where she died, and she came to be known as The German Woman. 

Another interlude. Along with the weather conditions preserving bodies and thus not making it a horrifying emergency to remove them from sight, you may be wondering, why do they just leave corpses on the mountain? Well, it’s incredibly difficult to get anything off the mountain not under its own power. Missions to recover bodies have turned deadly themselves, and with many climbers requesting before they climb for their families to leave their bodies on the mountain if they don’t make it, it’s usually not worth the risk to human life. Also, aside from in snow, it’s hard to just like, bury them, too.

Back to Hannelore. Her body remained where it was for years, propped against her backpack. This was only about 328 feet away from Camp 4, which means climbers could likely see her as they rested at camp before their big summit push. She would almost look like she was resting too if it weren’t for her head being exposed, slowly turning skeletal over time while her thick snow clothes faded in the sun. For a long time her hair would even still blow in the wind. Two members of a Nepalise police expedition died in 1984 while attempting to retrieve her body, and that put an end to further attempts. Lene Gammelgaard, the first Scandinavian woman to summit Everest, wrote this about the eerie remains in her book: "It's not far now. I can't escape the sinister guard. Approximately 100 meters 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 in 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 on the conditions of the mountain." Schmatz’s remains were likely eventually blown over the edge of the Kangshung Face, as they don’t sit where they were anymore. 

This would only be the lead up to what remained the deadliest season on Everest for years, and the most famous Everest tragedy thus far - the 1996 Mount Everest disaster. We’ll take the treacherous climb…after the break.


{BREAK - }


Back to the tallest mountain in the world. So, after the initial shock of learning that Mount Everest is littered with corpses, my next step was to research Everest disasters, which led me to a pretty famous book - “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer, who also wrote “Into the Wild” and “Under the Banner of Heaven”. That’ll be the main source for this next segment, though there are portions that are contested by fellow climbers, and I’ll be sure to note that when it applies.

The important context for the 1996 disaster is that in the early 1990s climbing Everest started to become a more commercial venture that more than just the most skilled mountaineers in the world could undertake. Rob Hall, a New Zealander who had climbed the 7 summits - the world’s highest 7 mountains - in a record-breaking 7 months and had formed the high-altitude guiding business Adventure Consultants in 1992. By 1996 Hall had guided 39 climbers to the top of Everest, bolstered by the per-person cost of $65,000. Until this point, he hadn’t suffered a single casualty during his climbs, and became sought out for his reliability and safety, even garnering an MBE from the Queen in 1994. In Rob Hall’s wake, many other guiding businesses promising to get climbers to the top of Everest for a hefty price also popped up, including Mountain Madness, led by American Scott Fischer, who was seen as a more devil-may-care counterpart to the cautious Rob Hall. This led to what began to be a glut in 1996, with 30 different teams fighting to make it to the summit in the same tiny amount of time. It’s become common belief that early May is really the best time to summit Everest, along with possibly the autumn nowadays. Weather is notoriously difficult to predict, but this is just before monsoon season but when the peak is visible and clear AND it’s not as unbearably cold as the winter months. I mean, it’s still unbearably cold, but not as.

It was a combination of these factors - more people climbing the mountain than ever, belief in it being the perfect time weather-wise to climb, and the climb itself becoming more commercialized, that helped lead to the tragedy that would become the 1996 disaster. Krakauer himself was on Rob Hall’s team, assigned to writing about climbing Everest for Outside magazine…so he, and eventually we the audience, would get a first person perspective on what would become the deadliest season in Everest history to that point. It was later thought that, perhaps the additional scrutiny that the Outside article would be putting Adventure Consultants other was one of the reasons that Rob Hall pushed so hard for a success during this particular climb.

Along with Krakauer there were many other climbers who had their own reasons for wanting to make it to the top. On Rob Hall’s team that included Dr Seaborn Beck Weathers, a pathologist making a bid for the 7 Summits but having never been above 8,000 meters before; Yasuko Namba, who was trying to bag her 7th Summit and also become the oldest woman to summit Everest; and Doug Hansen, who had made it within hundreds of feet of the summit a year before but had been turned back by Hall due to bad weather. Hansen had worked 3 jobs to make enough money to return to Everest in 1996, and Hall - still feeling guilty for having denied him his dream in the name of safety - gave him a hefty discount. Adventure Consultants was led by Rob Hall and guides Mike Groom and Andy Harris, as well as head Sherpa or Sardar Ang Dorje. 

Mountain Madness was ushering other paying clients up the mountain as well, including Charlotte Fox, who had climbed all 53 of the 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado and previously two 8,000 meter peaks as well; mountaineer Lene Gammelgaard, and socialite Sandy Hill Pittman. They were led by Scott Fischer and guides Neil Beidleman and Anatoli Boukreev, and Sardar Lopsang Jangbu Sherpa. There were others on a Taiwanese expedition, including one team member who had died following a fall on the Lhotse Face on May 9th, and a few others, including an IMAX documentary expedition led by David Brashears. 

Initially Rob Hall tried to lay claim to the May 10th summit date, but Mountain Madness and the South African team also determined they would share the day. This would eventually lead to gridlock on the path, especially at the tenuous Hillary Step, a nearly vertical rock face between the South Summit and true summit that was the final big challenge before reaching the top of the mountain via the southeast route. It was partially destroyed in a 2015 earthquake. Shortly after midnight on May 10th, Adventure Consultants as well as Mountain Madness and some other climbers began a summit attempt from Camp 4. They encountered delays at the Balcony and the Hillary Step due to the amount of people and the lack of fixed line having been previously placed, costing the climbers hours of time where they just waited and used up oxygen. Some climbers turned back at this point, giving up their summit bid - it would be the best decision any of them would make.

Guide Anatoly Boukreev was the first to summit that day at 1:07 pm, without the use of supplemental oxygen. This choice was questioned by many as it was felt he wouldn’t be as dependable a guide without oxygen. Hall, Krakauer, Harris, Beidleman, Namba, and a couple of the Mountain Madness clients summitted sometime around 2pm, which had been previously designated as the last safe time to turn around to reach Camp 4 again before nightfall. They turned back to descend along with the other Mountain Madness clients, but Rob Hall hung back to see Doug Hansen to the summit. Scott Fischer didn’t summit until 3:45, exhausted and exhibiting signs of suffering from either HAPE or HACE, or possibly both. Rob Hall tried to turn Hansen back, as he’d run out of supplemental oxygen, but Hansen was desperate to fulfill his dream, and it seems that Hall was just too good of a guy to break his heart a second time. Hansen struggled, but made it to the summit sometime after 4pm. Beck Weathers had left the line during the ascent due to vision problems, likely triggered by his eye surgery years before. At this point he was still sitting on the Balcony, waiting for Rob Hall to come back and effectively blind. He didn’t leave this spot until much later, when he was picked up by guide Mike Groom on his descent.

After Hansen’s summit, Hall and Hansen became stuck at the Hillary Step without any supplemental oxygen. Guide Andy Harris, already exhibiting signs of altitude sickness, was under the belief there weren’t any supplemental oxygen canisters at the South Summit, even though there were 4 that had been stashed previously. Harris was starting to get confused, and headed back up to the South Summit to try and assist Hall and Hansen. 

Meanwhile, Guide Anatoly Boukreev had descended in front of all his clients to reach Camp 4 by 5pm. The reasons he did this, and hadn’t climbed down with his clients, are disputed, particularly by Boukreev and Krakauer. By this time, the weather began to become severe, in sharp comparison to the generally cold and windy conditions earlier in the day. Those still high on the mountain could see a dramatic thundering blizzard beginning to roll in, basically the worst conditions possible to climb in. Snow pellets were pummeling the climbers on 70 mile per hour winds and it was hard to see anything through the cover. Climbers began to get lost, including Weathers, Yasuko Namba, Charlotte Fox, Sandy Hill Pittman, Guide Mike Groom and others wandering until they could no longer walk, huddling about 66 feet from the steep drop-off of the Kangshung Face. Krakauer reached Camp 4 but was almost totally snow blind, and Boukreev set out to try and rescue the others. Though his prior decision to descend without his clients has been criticized, all agree that Boukreev’s heroics on the night of May 10th are to be commended. He located the group on the Kangshung Face, who still included Fox and Pittman - Groom and a couple others had set off to find help - and began to pull them back to Camp 4 under his own power. Namba and Weathers were seen as being close to death, and not prioritized. Near midnight the blizzard began to clear in the area, and the group could better see Camp 4. 

At 4:43 AM on May 11th, Rob Hall radioed Base Camp to say he was on the South Summit and had, somehow, miraculously survived a night in a horrific storm at almost 9,000 meters above sea level. He reported that Andy Harris had reached himself and Hansen, but that Hansen was now “gone” and Harris was missing. Hall also could not breathe his bottled oxygen because his regulator had become choked with ice. By 9 AM, he’d fixed his oxygen mask but indicated that his hands and feet had become frostbitten and he was having trouble traversing the fixed ropes as a result of this. Later that afternoon, he radioed Base Camp and requested they call his pregnant wife Jan on the satellite phone. As those at Base Camp held the satellite phone up to the radio, Jan and Rob had their final conversation, during which they chose a name for their unborn child and he reassured her he was reasonably okay, saying “Sleep well, my sweetheart. Please don’t worry too much.” Sherpa Ang Dorje and another Sherpa from a different team tried to climb the 3,000 feet to rescue hall, but another storm began to hit and they stopped only when it was clear they could absolutely climb no higher with any chance of success. Dorje, heartbroken, radioed back to camp to tell them the news - and they had the horrific task of calling Rob to let him know no help was going to come on this day, either. It was clear that there was no hope he could survive another night. As Hall himself would say, “It’s like being on the moon.”

Rob Hall froze to death shortly after the call in his sleep.

Meanwhile, another client on Hall’s team, Stuart Hutchison - one of those who had turned back after the logjam on the Hillary Step - went back into the cold to try and recover Weathers and Namba. He found both were shockingly still alive but severely frostbitten and completely unable to move. After consulting with Sherpa Lopsang, it was determined that they could not be saved by the survivors at Camp 4, and that there was no other choice but to leave them. Family members were notified. However, Beck Weathers somehow regained consciousness later in the day and shockingly walked back to Camp 4 alone under his own power, suffering from severe hypothermia and frostbite. The next morning a storm collapsed Weathers’ tent, and once AGAIN the other climbers had thought he died. Krakauer discovered he was still alive when the survivors began to evacuate Camp 4, and he was ushered down to Camp 2 with the help of 8 healthy climbers across different expeditions. He would lose his nose, right hand, half his right forearm, and all the fingers on his left hand to frostbite - but he, somehow, survived.

Fischer and another climber were located on May 11th as well, but Fischer’s condition was so bad that they could only attempt to make him comfortable. Boukreev tried later to rescue Fischer, but found his frozen body on the Balcony at around 7pm. Boukreev covered him with his backpack and later buried him during a climb the next year.

Hall’s body was found a couple weeks later by Ed Viesturs and other mountaineers from the IMAX expedition. Hall was left where he’d died at the request of his wife, who said she thought he was “where he’d liked to have stayed”. Viesturs stated in the film that upon discovering Hall’s body, he sat down and cried beside it, mourning his dead friend. Hall remained on the mountain, but his wedding band was brought back down to Jan. I’m unsure whether his body is still located where it was found - I’ve read conflicting accounts both that it is, and that it hasn’t been seen in years. All that I know is that it’s still on Everest. The bodies of Andy Harris and Doug Hansen were never found. Yasuko Namba’s body was discovered by Boukreev the next year, and he constructed a cairn around it to protect from scavenging birds. Later in 1997, Namba’s husband funded an operation to bring her body down from the mountain, which was successful. 

One body that has become morbidly famous on Everest is another from the 1996 expedition: that of the so-called “Green Boots”, believed to be Indian climber Tsewang Paljor. This body is called Green Boots because of the neon green boots it wears, along with insulated snow gear. The body is curled in a limestone alcove cave at about 27,900 feet up the mountain, and has become a grim mile marker along the north route for climbers who spot it. It was first recorded in video in May 2001 by climber Pierre Paparon, reported to be missing from view in 2014, but possibly spotted again in 2017, where a body was discovered hanging alongside a tent and other debris on the side of a cliff. Paljor was wearing green boots on the day he attempted a summit, and unfortunately, that day was May 10th 1996. He was caught in the same blizzard as the others as he descended. Paljor’s brother Thinley recalled discovering the “Green Boots” story on the internet in 2011: “I was really upset and shocked, and I really didn’t want my family to know about this. Honestly speaking, it’s really difficult for me to even look at the pictures on the internet. I feel so helpless.” Like we said, these victims are still very real to their families, and still a source of pain.

Another climber’s body also received a nickname - that of Sleeping Beauty. This climber, Francys Arsentiev, died in 1998 during her descent after summiting Everest. Her husband also tragically died from a likely fall while attempting to rescue her. She was discovered in her last moments by Ian Woodall and Cathy O’Dowd, who abandoned their chance at the summit - only 300 meters above them - to stay with her in her final minutes. Frostbite turned her face smooth, white and waxy, and her purple jacket was clearly visible to climbers passing by. She was dubbed Sleeping Beauty as it appeared she was simply asleep. In 2007 Woodall re-located her body and dropped it to a lower location on the face, ceremonially removing it from view. Arsentiev’s son Paul recalled how awful it was to see photos of his mother’s body online: “It’s like being really embarrassed, like being called on by your teacher but not knowing how to read. It’s horrible.”

One of the bodies may have led to tragedy. In 2006 solo British mountaineer David Sharp was found in a hypothermic state in the area dubbed “Green Boots Cave” by climber Mark Inglis and his crew. Inglis went on with his ascent after radioing for advice on how to help, advice which he was unable to provide. Sharp died of his hypothermia some hours later. In that time approximately 3 dozen climbers passed Sharp as he sat dying, even capturing him on film a number of times. Unfortunately, many of these climbers likely mistook the dying man for the deceased Green Boots, and passed him over. He was only 820 feet above Camp 4, but extreme cold, fatigue, lack of oxygen and the sunset made a descent almost impossible. Inglis was severely criticized after Sharp’s death by the media and professionals including Sir Edmund Hillary himself, for not having helped Sharp. Inglis countered that he was a double amputee and simply the best-known of the 30-40 other climbers who had passed by Sharp without helping. He also stated Sharp was ill equipped, lacking proper gloves and enough supplementary oxygen. A Sherpa had also tried to help and get him to move for about an hour, but he could not get Sharp to stand or even lean on him. He had to be left. Sharp’s body remained on the mountain but was removed from sight in 2007.

Adventurer Noel Hanna noted in May 2014 that along with Green Boots several of the famous Everest bodies had disappeared, as previously he estimated up to 10 were visible on the push to the summit, but that year he only counted 2 or 3. Sadly, 2014 would bring the beginning of what is the deadliest stretch on Everest ever, with two horrific seasons in a row.

16 people died on Everest in 2014, thanks to the 2014 Mount Everest avalanche. On April 18th seracs on the western spur of Everest in the same area as the 1970 disaster failed, with a block of ice “the size of a Beverly Hills mansion” broke off from the icefall and created an avalanche, killing 16 Sherpas who were climbing to fix ropes and prepare the route for clients during the upcoming season. 5 of these Sherpas were there preparing for an upcoming Discovery Channel special about the first attempted BASE jump from the mountain. Ironically, the second unit crew of the 2015 film Everest, about the 1996 tragedy, were filming nearby at the time, but suffered no injuries or fatalities, with Sherpas involved with the production giving assistance after the avalanche. 13 bodies were recovered and 3 are still buried in roughly 260 to 330 feet of snow and ice. Some of the dead were brought down and cremated in a Buddhist ceremony. 

The next year, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal and the surrounding areas on April 25th, 2015. Tremors from the quake triggered a devastating avalanche from Pumori, a mountain 8 kilometers west of Mount Everest, into Everest’s base camp. Between 19 and 24 people were killed, instantly surpassing the tragedy of the year before. Between 700 and 1000 people were on or near the mountain when the quake struck including 359 climbers in the Base Camp area, many of whom were returning mountaineers that had aborted their summiting hopes during the previously deadly season. The death toll included 11 Nepalese Sherpas, 1 Australian-Indian, and 4 Americans including Dan Fredinburg, a Google executive climbing to map the area for a future Google Earth type project. After a second earthquake on the 12th, the mountain was closed, and no one summitted that year for the first time in 41 years. 2020 was the second time this would happen, due to closure from COVID.

As the mountain becomes more and more busy, the fatalities continue, despite the Sherpas mobilizing to demand better wages and safety after the 2014 and 2015 seasons. It seems surprising that most of these deaths occur during descent rather than ascent, but it seems many succumb to exhaustion, hypothermia, altitude sickness or accidents. This year we had 4 deaths - Two Sherpas, one of whom fell into a crevasse, and 2 climbers who died from exhaustion. Now over 200 bodies remain on Everest, some buried or in crevasses - but some still right out in the open. Accidents will likely continue due to global warming, and as glaciers melt, this will probably expose long-buried bodies on the mountain, as well. 

So why do people do it? The pithy reason is as George Mallory quipped - “Because it’s there.” But why do people continue to strive for this achievement, despite the near-superhuman effort required and high chance of death…which has been up to a staggering nearly 1 in 4? Why take the chance? It’s easy for me to research and discuss this topic knowing full well I would never even think of attempting something like this, not only because of the physical intensity which I surely would never be able to surmount, but the chance of a horrible death. Maybe the whole thing boils down to no risk, no reward - though over 5,000 people have summited since Hillary and Norgay’s first successful ascent and descent in 1953, it’s still a remarkable accomplishment that you typically wouldn’t have duplicates of in the same group or family. It’s a massive brag, and beyond that, many find peace in climbing and surely must find deep satisfaction in realizing such a monumental goal. Even despite having to climb over the bodies of others in the Rainbow Valley to get there.

But myself? No, I don’t think so. I prefer the seashore to a mountain top, anyway.

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NEWS

Iiiiit’s Cryin’ Saucers.

According to Coast to Coast, “An anomaly hunter scouring NASA images for intriguing oddities on Mars spotted what appears to be a crashed flying saucer on the surface of the Red Planet.”

Researcher Jean Ward made the discovery when he was looking at a photo taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter back in December 2006. Apparently, the strange anomaly hadn’t been spotted til now. 

Definitely go look the picture up, but according to Ward’s Youtube video, it basically appears like a strange object with a rounded edge is half-buried in the Martian dirt with a large streak behind it, like it came in for a sliding landing. The object appears to be about 40-50 feet in diameter.

Ward theorized that the oddity could be some kind of disc-shaped ship that "hit the surface of Mars at a very low angle,” or it might be indicative of "a ramp leading into an underground entrance." A Youtube commenter posited that maybe it was a “teen-aged Grey taking dad's cruiser out for a joy ride.”

 

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END

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