eople love to challenge themselves by pushing themselves beyond their limits with activities such as conquering the highest mountains in the world, such as Everest. Whilst 5,294 people managed to successfully conquer Mount Everest based on the Himalayan Database from 2018, there have also been 307 deaths during such an attempt.
This is described as the hardest challenge for a human being, not only due to the extreme weather conditions and risk of death with every step but also because of the psychological toll it can have on those who attempt it.
There is something that alpinists call “mountain sickness” which starts to manifest around an altitude of 2,400 meters. The symptoms include:
- Extreme exhaustion
- High blood pressure
- Difficulty in breathing
The main cause of this sickness is the lack of oxygen that is available at 2,000 meters altitude. The higher the climber goes the less oxygen is available, which is why breathing at a stable pace is extremely important, the same reason most people practice controlling their breathing before attempting this challenging climb.
On the path that has been marked for years by those who have succeeded as being the easiest way to climb the mountain, there are a few bodies frozen and left there to remind people of how dangerous the road ahead is.
Besides this madness, or what many call a death wish, those who attempt this challenge don’t do it to prove something to others, but to prove something to themselves and because they love undertaking the “impossible”.
Some of the ones who have been defeated by this challenge and now make the road to the peak of Everest have a story of love for this challenge which I want to present.
Hannelore Schmatz (1979)
Schmatz was the first German woman to climb Mount Everest and the first woman to die there. The cause of Hannelore’s death is not known as she was climbing the Mount by herself, however, she was found in the same year by other climbers who managed to reach the peak.
Those who have seen her body say that she must have frozen to death as it did not look as if she felt anything. Another assumption is that she possibly laid down to rest and was hit by an avalanche. Most deaths that occur on Mount Everest are during the time when people rest or sleep.
Tsewang Paljor (1996)
This is one of the more significant deaths for today’s climbers. Paljor was an Indian mountain climber who due to the fog got lost from his group. As a snowstorm was approaching he tried to find refuge in a small cave hole/cave. As he was resting he froze to death with half of his body out of the hole.
Paljor is also known by the nickname “Green Boots” as he died with green boots on. This nickname originated from alpinists in the 2000s who even to this day use Paljor’s corpse as a checkpoint telling them how far they are from the peak of the mountain.
Francis and Sergei Arsentiev (1998)
Arsentiev was an American woman who was climbing Mount Everest with a group of friends along with her husband. Around 4,000 meters in altitude, Francis took a wrong step and fell to her death. She was the last one of the group and her husband only realized after two minutes that she wasn’t at the back anymore.
Her husband, Sergei, didn’t have enough oxygen left in his tank to go back after her, although he took the risk to save Francis. In his rush to find her as quickly as possible, he slipped and also fell to his death. Two other climbers found her a bit later, she was still alive but in a critical state.
The two climbers called for help but realized that she didn’t have long to go, so they comforted her until she passed away. The two climbers felt a bit guilty that they weren’t able to do more, so they returned eight years later to lay an American flag on her frozen corpse.
Marko Lihteneker (2005)
Lithtenker’s corpse is the highest on Mount Everest at 8,800 meters. This Slovenian alpinist died during his descent. There were signals received at the nearest base from Mount Everest from Marko, transmitting that something was wrong with his oxygen mask.
His cause of death is unknown but based on the last transmission it’s most likely that he died from the lack of oxygen or from a panic attack provoked by the fact that his mask oxygen was broken.
David Sharp (2005)
David Sharp sadly also passed away, defeated by this challenge in 2005. As he got very close to the peak, he decided to rest in a cave he found along the way in order to have the power to enjoy reaching the peak. Remember when I said that most deaths occurred when people stopped to rest?
Sadly this is another case, as David laid down to rest half of his body was frozen. In his attempt to scream for help, another group of alpinists was climbing and heard him due to the echo which amplified his scream.
By the time the other climbers got to him, he had 70% of his body frozen. The climbers pulled him out of the cave and into the sunlight to defrost but no luck. The climbers had to take the hard decision to leave him to die, as they were not able to carry him down and that would put the rest of the group’s life at risk.
I know this may sound harsh but risking the life of five people to save one is seen very differently when you are at 8,000 meters altitude. There is a specific ethical code by which the climbers that attempt to climb Mount Everest go by.
His body was moved back into the cave and it is still there today, used as a checkpoint, just like the body of Paljor (Green Boots).
Shriya Shah-Klorfine (2012)
Shriya was a Canadian woman who also attempted the challenge on her own. As she reached the peak she spent half an hour celebrating her accomplishment and contemplating her journey thus far. The mistake she made was spending time up there where there is a high lack of oxygen.
People assume that upon her descent she died from the lack of oxygen. Her body can be found exactly 300 meters below the peak of Everest with a Canadian flag covering it. As previously mentioned about other deceased, her body is also used as a checkpoint by other climbers.
There are many other stories, but these are the most significant of those whose corpses are still up there. It is estimated from the records of climbers that there are over 200 bodies frozen on Mount Everest.
In 2019 there were 20 deaths recorded, however, over 200 people managed to climb and ascend successfully. With this data, we can sort of say that this 1/10 death ratio is making climbers more aware of the risks they need to avoid and hopefully learn from those who left their corpses on the mountain.
As poet Charles Bukowski mentioned in one of his poems:
“Find what you love and let it kill you. Let it drain from you your all. Let it cling onto your back and weigh you down into eventual nothingness. Let it kill you, and let it devour your remains”.Charles Bukowski
May their souls rest in peace.