(Photo courtesy of BBC.com)
Mount Everest is the ultimate goal of serious, all or nothing mountain climbers. At 29,029 feet, it is the tallest mountain in the world, claimed by both China and Nepal. This majestic mountain holds another, less stately, record; it is the world’s largest open-air graveyard.
In their life or death quest to reach Mount Everest’s summit, over 375 climbers have lost their lives. Added to the tragic number of deaths is the gruesome reality of their bodies being left behind; many used as mile markers along the way. There are approximately 200 bodies remaining on the mountain, with some dating back to the 1920s.
Every foot of Mount Everest poses danger, but it is the top part of the mountain that is the worst. Everything above 26,000 feet is called the “death zone”. In this area, oxygen is approximately 1/3 of what one would have at sea level, and the barometric pressure makes weight feel 10 times heavier.
Under these conditions, a climber feels sluggish, weighed down, exhausted, and extremely disoriented. It causes organ distress and prevents one from surviving there for more than 48 hours.
As shocking as many find this, generally accepted protocol when someone dies on the mountain is to leave them where they fell. It is not so much a cruel, insensitive act as it is the reality of the mountain. For the same reasons one perishes up there, especially in the death zone, it is nearly impossible to bring a body down.
There are unpredictable and extreme weather conditions, and lack of oxygen that make reaching dead bodies exceedingly difficult. If they can be reached, there is the unpleasant discovery of it being frozen and stuck to the ground. Attempts to recover bodies from the mountain have cost other lives, and most consider efforts at removal an impossible task.
The story of a climber who didn’t survive the attempt to reach Mount Everest’s summit is that of courage and ultimate effort. They knew the cost, and were willing to try. What has been called “summit fever” is a dangerous, no second chance adventure; many risk it, and some remain behind as testimony to the perils that lie ahead.