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Another Look at the Dead on Everest

Shutterstock_69239275Everest. Photo: Daniel Prudek/Shutterstock

On Thursday, climbing blogger Alan Arnette posted a new analysis of the dead on Mount Everest. "Around 225 climbers have died on Everest since 1953 with about 3,700 individuals standing on the summit," he wrote. "The vast majority of the dead are still there."

Arnette compiled his report in response to an article that he called sensational. He wanted to gather facts and take a deeper look at the reasons why bodies remained on the mountain. His analysis includes a simple chart showing the locations and causes of deaths from 2001 to 2012. He noted 39 deaths on the North Ridge route, 25 on the South Col route, and six deaths on other routes. "That the north side death rate is higher is not a big surprise," wrote Arnette. "The north is traditionally considered slightly more dangerous given the exposure to cold and harsh winds plus the technical nature of the Steps and exposed rock on the summit ridge."

The more common causes of death include falls and altitude sicknesses. Those who perish on the mountain remain primarily for logistical reasons.

As to the question of why bodies remain on Everest, it is a matter of logistical difficulty and further risk. It can take five or even 10 or more very strong, acclimatized Sherpas to move a body lower from the extreme altitudes above 8,000 meters. The work is slow and dangerous exposing the rescuers to altitude, weather, and potential falls. And it is expensive, costing over USD $30,000 for a full repatriation. If several years have passed, the body has most likely frozen into the landscape preventing any form of recovery.

Using helicopters to transport bodies has only recently become practical. FishTail Air helicopters regularly carried injured climbers and even deceased ones from Camp 2 at 21,500′ on the south the past few years. But a body above that altitude must be moved by human power to a lower position.

There are no helicopters available on the north due to the Chinese prohibiting the use of helicopters for any reason thus any body must be moved by human power to ABC then by yak to base camp at 17,000′ and then moved by a vehicle.

Often friends or guides will return the following year after a death to provide a respectful “burial” of the dead by moving them off route or down a steep hillside. Some are moved into a crevasse or covered with rock or snow if available. However, with climate change, these burials are proving to be temporary as wind and melting snow reveal the bodies years or decades later.

Finally, often deaths occur during the harshest of conditions where everyone is fighting for their lives preventing any form of immediate rescue. On occasion, climbers have been known to be literally blown off the upper mountain flanks or ridges never to be found.

It's a short but solid read that offers a brief explanation of where visible bodies are located on the routes and how some climbers and photographers handle their presence.

For a more complete picture of the dead on the world's highest peak, read, "Bodies on Everest."

—Joe Spring

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