Mt. Everest, the world’s highest cemetery keeps growing

By: Justin Nobel | Date: Sat, August 13th, 2011

More than 200 corpses lay entombed on Mt. Everest. Many people remain in the same position as when they died, almost perfectly preserved because of the cold.

>>Related: Everest movie shows why the world’s highest cemetery keeps getting bigger.  (9/16/2015)

Peter Kinloch, a 28 year old IT specialist, had just summited Mt. Everest and was descending the mountain when he began to go blind.

More than 200 corpses lay entombed on Mt. Everest. Many people remain in the same position as when they died, almost perfectly preserved because of the cold.

He lost coordination and collapsed. A trio of Nepalese Sherpas spent 12 hours trying to resuscitate him with amphetamines and oxygen but by 2 a.m., bad weather was approaching and the group was still 28,000 feet high on the mountain. They were forced to abandon his body. Months later, Peter’s friend Rodney, attempting an Everest summit of his own, spotted it. “I instantly knew it was Peter,” said Rodney. “You could see his face. It was like he was lying on his back taking a rest.”

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The body was on a dangerous ledge about 1,000 feet below the summit. Unable to reach his friend’s remains, Rodney paid his respects and left him there, yet another corpse, one of more than 200 entombed on earth’s highest mountain. Steep terrain, hazardous weather, lack of oxygen and the difficulty involved in packing out 200 extra pounds make it nearly impossible to get a body off the mountain. Many people remain in the same position as when they died, almost perfectly preserved because of the cold. For climbers en route to the top, corpses have become part of the scenery.

A website featuring photos of the Everest dead shows a body from 1996 in a red parka, purple snow pants and fluorescent green boots, in the lee of a rock wall with powdery snow drifted across his torso. Such a landmark is this body that it has been given a nickname, green boots. Another man lies half buried in a scree pile, with his climbing ropes still across his shoulders and his clothing ripped open across his back, revealing his pale white skin to the elements. One body is nothing but a skeleton in a sherbet colored parka, with the head cocked to the side and the teeth intact. It seems to be grinning.

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Cleanups have become more common, though most have stayed below 26,000 feet, the start of the notorious “death zone”, where there is one-third as much oxygen as there is at sea level and brain damage and death can set in in a matter of hours. Peter Kinloch died in the death zone. Last spring, a team of Nepali climbers headed there with special bags to collect bodies. Their aim was to retrieve five, lower them down the snowfield and carry them across the glaciers to base camp. One was the body of a Swiss climber who died on the mountain in 2008. His family consented to him being brought down by the Sherpas and cremated. But not all family’s want their loved ones removed from the mountain. It’s “where he’d like to have stayed,” said the wife of Rob Hall, one of eight climbers to die in a blizzard near the top of Everest in the spring of 1996, a disaster that became the basis of the best-selling book Into Thin Air. The Sherpas don’t necessarily agree bodies should be left there forever. “The mountain is also a source of water,” said one.

The most famous body to be taken off Everest is also one of the first ones to be left there, George Mallory, an English mountaineer who disappeared with his climbing partner Andrew Irvine high on the northeast ridge, just a few hundred meters from the summit, in 1924. He would have been the first climber to conquer the mountain. The pair set out from base camp on June 4, it is assumed they died four days later, on June 8th, or perhaps, June 9th. Mallory’s funeral was held at St. Paul’s Cathedral, in London, and attended by the British prime minister, Ramsay Macdonald as well as King George V and the Royal family. His body had not yet been found.

Several expeditions went looking, hoping not just for corpse closure but also to end the heated debate over whether or not Mallory reached the summit. A Chinese climber named Wang Hung-bao apparently stumbled across a dead Englishman at 26,570 feet in 1975. Based on this info, in 1986, the Mt. Everest North Face Research Expedition went looking for Mallory but were waylaid by heavy snows. In 1999, the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition resumed the search, accompanied by Nova and BBC film crews. On May 1 they found a body and checked a name tag still readable on the clothing, it read “G. Mallory”.

But the debate over whether him and Irvine made it to the summit continues. “I would love them to have got there,” said climber Sir Chris Bonington, who first summited Everest in 1975. “Whether they did or not, I think that is something one just cannot know.”

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