You may have heard rumours over the years that you can see dead bodies on Everest. They’re not just rumours – they’re true. It’s a sad reality that at least 200 Everest corpses lie distributed throughout the world’s tallest mountain.
The dead bodies on Everest tend to stay there too, like the case of ‘Green Boots’ – the unlucky climber never positively identified other than for his green climbing boots who curled up for protection in a small cave, most likely, during the disastrous season of Everest 1996.
His body was first seen that year, yet he remained there – in plain sight and perfectly preserved – until his last confirmed sighting in 2014.
Why So Many Dead Bodies on Everest?
Mount Everest may be one of the few, if only, places on the planet where a corpse can remain unburied, undisturbed and unretrieved. There are many reasons for this: Everest is dangerous – between 18 and 22 climbers died in 2015 alone. It’s also popular – heck, people are BASE jumping off Everest now (that’s Valery Rozov, the only person in history to BASE jump Mt. Everest and thus complete Birth of Sky from the Ozaki 8).
Also, it’s cold. And there’s little oxygen at that height, which combine to preserve the dead bodies of Everest almost perfectly, and create an eerie tradition of stepping over corpses on many a climb.
It’s a sad fact but many climbers speak of a quiet acknowledgement in the mountaineering community: you’re on your own if something should happen while on a climb. A rescue mission this far up puts others at risk. It’s hard enough climbing with your own two feet. To descend back down that mountain with an injured climber in tow – who knew the risk when he went climbing in the first place – is a line generally recognized as one don’t ask others to cross.
The Captain goes down with his ship.
A Sad Legacy
More people are climbing Everest these days, and they’re reaching the summit. Today, thanks to improvements in gear and more guides, over half of Everest climbers hit their peak and make it back down.
Still, Mt Everest is no cakewalk. With more climbers come more mis-steps. There’s not much room for error on Mt. Everest – with or without that pretty alpine gear. Today, it’s common for climbers to pass many dead bodies on Everest, often with moment of reflection or – sometimes – a cairn of stones, or flag to cocoon the departed.
At present, there are at least 200 dead bodies on Everest. Some of the more famous deaths on Mt. Everest include:
Green Boots – Possibly the best known of the bodies on Everest, Green Boots is an unidentified climber who most likely succumbed to hypothermia during the Everest 1996 season, in which eight climbers were caught in a blizzard near the summit between May 10 and 11th. Many climbers believe he’s Indian mountaineer Tsewang Paljor, who was reportedly wearing green climbing boots the day of the blizzard.
The latter explains his moniker over the past 20 years at Everest, and the small cave in which he sought refuge is now known informally as ‘Green Boots cave’, where another famous mountaineer met his fate.
While many believe Green Boots is Paljor, there is some speculation it may be another member of his team – possibly his sherpa Dorje Marup.
Green Boots remained in his cave for close to 20 years. He has not been seen since 2014, with the most logical explanation being he was removed to a more discreet location, or buried, and finally given his proper place on the mountain.
David Sharp – David Sharp was that ‘other mountaineer’ who died in Green Boots cave. Sharp, an accomplished mountaineer, age 34, had climbed Everest twice previously. He was good enough a climber that on his final ascent, in 2006, he climbed the mountain with no support team or bottled oxygen.
Another climber – New Zealand mountaineer Mark Inglis and his party – encountered Sharp in the cave on their way up. Sharp, on his way down, became confused and disoriented, and sought refuge in the cave, where Inglis found him still alive.
In a move that attracted much controversy, Inglis continued the climb and offered no assistance to Sharp. Inglis later said he and his party thought Sharp was on his way up, and was already in a state from which he could not recover.
The story led to criticism from fellow Kiwi Edmund Hillary, who suggested the 30 to 40 climbers who passed a dying Sharp that day and did nothing were more interested in reaching the summit. It’s wrong to let a climber die, said the first man to conquer the tallest mountain on Earth.
Those of the 40 climbers who passed Sharp that morning say they thought he was resting, and had no idea the state he was in.
Sharp is believed to have passed later that day, and remained in the cave until 2007, when he was given a permanent home on Everest – and out of sight – at his parents’ request.
Francys Arsentiev – One of most heart-breaking tales of death at Everest, Francys Arsentiev was American. She was the first American woman to climb Everest without supplementary oxygen, in 1998. She didn’t have much time to take in her achievement though – Arsentiev died on her descent, having fallen behind her team, including husband Sergei.
On seeing his wife was not at Base camp at day’s end, an exhausted Sergei trudged back up the mountain. It was there he encounter several Uzbek climbers, who’d found Francys – fallen – and abandoned their climb in an attempt to save her.
The Uzbek climbers were forced to give up when they ran out of oxygen. And sadly, Sergei fell himself that night, and became one of the many dead bodies on Everest.
Francys was still alive the next day when climbers Ian Woodall and Cathy O’Dowd found her, albeit distressed and beyond saving. O’Dowd later wrote of her gut-wrenching decision to leave the climber – close to death – after spending an hour with her in the -30 temperature.
She remained there, passed by thousands of climbers annually, until Woodall returned in 2007, cloaked her in an American flag and, with a note from her family placed in her hands – lowered her out of sight to her eternal home on Everest.
She’s still there today, along with Sharp, Green Boots, and hundreds of other dead bodies on Everest. Yet perhaps that’s inaccurate. Maybe it’s more fitting to say they’ve become part of Everest – like the sailors who wish to remain at sea – each a story of hope and resilience. All of whom died on top of the world.