A lot of people die climbing Mount Everest. Yet adventurers continue to be drawn to the challenge of scaling the world’s highest peak. A new Everest movie opening September 18th will remind us of just how deadly the mountain can be. Everest, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Josh Brolin, is based on accounts that describe a fateful day in May of 1996 when an avalanche claimed the lives of 8 climbers. The most notable of these accounts is the book Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, a journalist who was caught in the middle of the disaster.
(Story continues below the trailer.)
The new Everest movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Jason Clarke,
Kiera Knightly, and Robin Wright should reopen conversation about attempting
to reach the top of the world’s highest mountain.
As dark as that episode in Everest’s history was, it was not the worst. The worst days on the mountain to date are much more recent. In 2014, 17 people were lost—most of those were Sherpas who were killed in an avalanche. So far this year, 25 have died. An avalanche triggered by a 7.8 earthquake that struck Nepal made April 25th, 2015 Everest’s deadliest day so far.
Talking about exactly who dies on Everest and the overall fatality rate is not clear-cut. There are the climbers, many of who pay huge amounts of money to be guided to the top of the mountain. Then there are the Sherpas. The Sherpas are natives of Nepal who, in most cases, come from a long line of people who work the mountain. These are the specialists who do the heavy lifting and pave the way for the hundreds of commercial expeditions that tackle the trek.
People who study the topic argue that for the climbers, the mountain has actually gotten safer over the years. For the Sherpas, Everest has become increasingly more dangerous.
There has always been a divide between Sherpas and Western summit-seekers, but these tensions have increased in recent years as Everest has become more accessible to unskilled-but-well-heeled climbers. The world’s tallest mountain has become much safer for the average Joe than ever before. For the people who live in its shadow, though, and must return to it again and again to earn a living, the risks haven’t declined in the same way. Read Charting Deaths on Mount Everest
For Sherpas, death is most often caused by an avalanche or falling. With more climbers, there are more Sherpas as well as the push to get as many teams up the mountain as possible. So it’s not surprising the number of sherpa deaths has gone up.
For climbers, death comes most often during descent in the area known as the “Death Zone.”
Climbers have always been aware of the so-called Death Zone, the area above 26,000 feet. With its super thin air and extremely hostile conditions, the Death Zone can end the journey of even the most experienced climber.
The Death Zone is so treacherous that it has become what may be the world’s highest cemetery. Bodies are so difficult to retrieve that they are often simply left there. Some 200 remain in the exact position where the climber died. Some of the remains are the stuff of legends. Such is the famous site of the unidentified corpse of “Green Boots,” which has become a landmark on the Northeast ridge. Though not confirmed, the body is believed to belong to Tsewang Paljor, one of the eight who died in the 1996 Mount Everest disaster.
Indeed, there is a great deal of controversy over the current state of Everest. Commercialization has brought a great deal of money to the area but it has also brought extremely crowded conditions, filth on the mountain, and a call to limit the number of people allowed permits to undertake the expedition. There is a growing concern over the number of avalanches and how climate change may be increasing the chance for more frequent and deadlier catastrophes. The Nepalese government is attempting to regulate the use of the mountain, but many argue this is not enough.
Mount Everest will continue to attract those who seek to conquer its challenges. Perhaps the upcoming Everest movie will alert those who are unprepared for just how risky the climb can be. Or perhaps not. Either way, adventure seekers would be wise to learn from the what has taken place on the mountain in the past. Otherwise, the world’s highest cemetery will just continue to get bigger.
Everest Movie Sources
- Everest by the Numbers: The Latest Summit Stats
- Nepal earthquake stirs debate on overcrowding and commercialisation of Everest
- The death zone: Dangerous overcrowding on Mount Everest
- Nepal set to introduce restrictions on climbers in Mount Everest ‘death zone’
- Everest Climber: ‘There’s an Element of Risk That We Accept’