Bodies on Everest

21/10/2009 12:21

Of the­ 189 people who have died in their attempts, an estimated 120 of them remain there [source:]. This is a gruesome reminder to those who attempt to reach the summit of just how perilous it can be. The simple reason that the bodies of dead climbers are scattered about Mount Everest is that it's too dangerous and difficult to try to remove them. Reaching the summit of Everest is a physical challenge unlike any other on Earth. To attempt to bring a dead body or a stranded climber down would take too long and likely leave the climbing team stranded overnight. This makes rescue attempts virtually suicidal.

Hi, frozen body!
Dave Hahn/Mallory & Irvine
The petrified, frozen remains of climber George Leigh Mallory lie on a slope of Mount Everest. The lost mountaineer's remains were found 75 years after he and fellow climber Andrew Irvine disappeared in 1924 trying to reach the summit.

Most of the bodies are located in the "Death Zone," the area above the final base camp at 26,000 feet (8,000 meters). No one has ever studied the cause of death, but fatigue and the elements certainly play a large part. Many of the bodies are frozen in , the corpses in tact with climbing rope still around their waists. Other bodies lie in various states of decay. Because of this, some experienced Everest climbers have made efforts in recent years to bury some of the more accessible bodies on the mountain. Climbing teams from China have led expeditions to clean up some of the estimated 120 tons of trash left behind each year [source: ABC News]. During these clean up efforts, the team plans to remove any bodies it can safely reach and carry back down.

In 2007, Ian Woodall, a British climber, returned to Everest to bury the bodies of three climbers he passed on his way to the summit. One of the climbers, a woman named Francys Arsentiev, was still alive when Woodall reached her during his initial ascent. Her first words to him were "don't leave me behind." The grim reality, though, is that Woodall could not have done anything for her without jeopardizing his own life or the lives of his team members. He was forced to leave her to perish alone.

Climbing Mount Everest has become much safer over the past decade thanks to advances in technology and climbing gear. Satellite phones allow a climber to stay in contact with base camp to get constant updates on weather systems in the area. A better understanding of exactly what kind and how much gear to take has also caused the death toll to drop dramatically. In 1996, there were 15 deaths and a total of 98 successful summits. Just 10 years later in 2006, there were only 11 deaths and an estimated 400 summits [source: ]. The total fatality rate over the past 56 years is nine percent, but as of 2004 that percentage had dropped to about 4.4 percent [source:].

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