For the past century, Everest has claimed at least one life per year. (The cynical among us could say instead that Everest is where these climbers sacrificed themselves.) The deadliest single day on the mountain was relatively recently – April 25, 2015, when an earthquake in Nepal killed 9,000 people, including 23 in an avalanche near Everest’s base camp.
At the time, some 200 climbers were in the early stages of their ascent, getting acclimated to the thin atmosphere and bitterly cold temperatures in a glacial valley known as Western Cwm where Camps I and II were established. Among the dead were at least three Sherpas, the specially trained guides who help climbers make their ascent.
Prior to then, the deadliest day was just a year before, on April 18, 2014, when another avalanche killed 16 people on the mountain. As a result, 2014 was the deadliest climbing season on Everest, until the following year.
Footage of the Avalanche hitting Everest’s Khumbu Icefall April 18th, 2014.
Deaths on Everest always draw attention: In May 2016, four people died in four days, including an Australian woman who was making the trip with her husband as a way to prove their vegan lifestyle wouldn’t impeded their ability to conquer the summit.
According to one account, Maria Strydom stopped her ascent at 8,000 meters, telling her husband, Robert Gropel, she needed to rest. He asked her permission to continue; she gave it, as the summit didn’t appear too much further ahead. “I didn’t want to separate from her. I wanted her to keep going… I just ran up and down and it didn’t mean anything to me.
Because we do everything together and everything else we did together was much more special,” he told the Guardian. Strydom wasn’t just exhausted, she was suffering from altitude sickness, with fluid filling her lungs and brain. She died in her husband’s arms on the path down the mountain, just 34 years old.
Unlike so many other climbers, Strydom’s body was retrieved from Everest. There are some 200 bodies encased in the ice and snow on the mountain, many anonymous, some infamous, including George Mallory, believed by some to have made it to the top of the mountain in 1924, 31 years before the man widely credited as the first to conquer Everest, Edmund Hillary.
Whether it was Mallory or Hillary to first see over the top, we’ll never know: Mallory’s body was found on the mountain in 1999, more than 70 years after he made his trek. Mallory’s body remains on the mountain.
Some bodies serve as markers for those making the trip; the most famous of these grim landmarks is the climber known as Green Boots.
Tsewang Paljor didn’t set out to become a warning to other climbers, but anyone who ascends on the north side of the mountain passes by his remains, neon green boots still intact, his body lying on its side as though he were just taking a nap.
Paljor’s final resting place has become a common place where other climbers pause, briefly, before making their last push toward the top. Most indications are that Paljor and two other climbers ignored the warning signs that they were in some kind of distress and ill-equipped to finish the journey 20 years ago.
There’s an entire gallery online of frozen climbers who unintentionally made Everest their final burial grounds. Why are the bodies still up there? Because it’s too dangerous to stop and try to help a climber in peril, let alone bear the weight of another person’s body during a treacherous descent in powerful, sub-zero winds and diminishing oxygen supplies as your tank runs out.
There’s a controversial tale of one climber who was passed by more than 40 others as he sat in Green Boots’ cave. Some of the other climbers noticed the thin, wispy and barely noticeable vapor of his dying breaths as they walked past; it is claimed that some of those climbers even talked to David Sharp during their climb in 2006 before he died. Stopping to help him would likely have led to their own deaths. Everest takes no prisoners.