AREA 51

The Dark Side Of Climbing Mount Everest

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This is long, but I have been reading and watching alot about Everest lately, so I gathered what I had learned and wrote this presentation, for those interested, on some of the history and controversy surrounding the world’s highest peak.

More than 2500 people have reached the summit of Mount Everest. Sir Edmund Hillary was the first in 1953, but many will argue that his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norjay, could have just as easily been the first. Norjay could have made the climb by himself, but Hillary surely would not have made it without Norjay, but that is another matter. However, in spite of increased success in climbing the mountain, and numbers vary, over 200 people have died trying, and at least 150 bodies still sit on Everest, many frozen where they died and preserved in almost perfect condition.

I am not a mountain climber or interested in being one, but I have a curiosity surrounding mountain climbing, the people, the danger, and those that step over the dead or dying to reach the summit. It is controversial, even in the climbing community, but I will go over some of the bigger stories and controversies here.

First, the peak of Mount Everest is just over 29000 feet. That is nearly at commercial jet cruising altitude, and the atmosphere over 26000 feet is simply not conducive to human beings. It is frigid, with temperatures nearly always below zero, low atmospheric pressure severely hinders breathing, winds are strong, and the mountain is covered with ice . Throw in a dangerous and exhausting climb, and the recipe for death is perfected. A fact many may not know, is that most die on the descent after they have reached the summit.

To understand the deaths, one has to understand how the climb and climbers have changed. The first attempt at the summit was by George Mallory and Andrew Levine in 1924. They disappeared off the second step on the Northeast ridge, and were not seen again until Mallory’s body was discovered in 1999. The photo is below.

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Levine has still not been found, but lost bodies on Everest are not unusual. After Hillary reached the top in 1953, many climbers followed, but through the 1980s, most attempts were made by mountain climbers. Real mountain climbers who had experience. Many of those died as well from falls and exposure and high altitude edemas, but they completely understood the risk. The climbing changed in the 1990s when commercial expeditions began to guide people to the top. This opened climbing Everest to amateur climbers and even those with no climbing experience at all.

Sherpas, the people who live on or around the mountains, do the dirty work. They are probably the best mountain climbers in the world, and their bodies have adapted somewhat to the conditions of the mountain. They are vastly underappreciated, but they are the ones to first break the trails, fasten guide ropes, and hired to help lead people up the mountain. They do rescues, when possible, and basically are the ones who do the work for the expeditions. They are important, because even the best American or European or Korean climber, needs and uses Sherpas to scale Everest and K2, and the fact is, mountain climbing has become the Sherpas livelihood.

With Sherpas and commercial expeditions, this made climbing Everest seem easier, yet it is still deadly. People pay $40,000- $60,000 dollars to be led up the mountain, but before one thinks just the wealthy do this, please know that people mortgage their houses, save for years, or out take loans for this excursion. There are the wealthy, but there are also people like a United States postal worker. This, however, is a contributing factor to deaths.

As the climbing industry pushed the idea of an easy climb, more and more have tried. Some expeditions even state you need no climbing experience, that to me, is just irresponsible, but people keep coming. The sheer numbers of people have increased the danger.

The climb is hard, so those with little or no experience, are slow climbers. Even top climbers can run into trouble in the death zone, but slow climbers can cause a ripple effect of death by stretching the amount of time spent above 26000 feet for themselves and others. The slow climb is exacerbated by lines to reach the summit. The volume of people causes a back up at the Hillary Step, the last and most difficult part of the climb. It is narrow and has one rope that many, even hundreds of people have to go up and then back down again, one at a time. The wait here can be hours, but they are precious hours. A climb from camp four, the launching pad to the summit, and back down can take up to 24 hours. This is twice as long as recommended.

The extended climbs lead to exhaustion, longer exposure to frigid temps, and using up supplemental oxygen. Running out of oxygen leads to either high altitude pulmonary edema or cerebral edema. Both are fatal, and the climber needs to quickly get to a lower altitude. Moving quickly, however, is what one cannot not do in this condition, because the first symptoms are headache and disorientation, which can cause a deadly fall. As the conditions progress, the climber becomes immobile and then unconscious. A person in this state is much more vulnerable to the cold which will quickly bring death.

It is many times at this point, with summit in sight, that many climbers are told to turn back by their guides or Sherpas. Once high altitude sickness appears, the chances for survival are greatly reduced, so the guides or Sherpas try to turn around clients who appear exhausted or maybe even displaying early signs of high altitude sickness. The problem is, what they call summit fever sets in. A person sees the summit and just cannot turn back despite physical deterioration. Pure motivation and adrenaline will get these people to the top, but that is where the trouble really begins. The motivation and adrenaline fade, the exhaustion becomes apparent, many run out of oxygen, and they become physically unable to walk or become unconscious. At 29000 feet it is literally every man for himself. The guides and Sherpas can help a climber as long as they can walk, but once they are immobile, the hard truth is they will be left for dead. Guides and Sherpas are also in a deteriorating physical condition, so carrying anyone is impossible and will only lead to one’s own death. The south summit, just below the peak, has an area they call rainbow valley because of all the dead bodies with multi colored climbing gear that litter the ground.

The key is to get up to the summit and back down to a safe altitude quickly. A good climber, with no people in his way, can summit and get back down to the safe altitude of camp 2 within twelve hours. Most climbers in commercial expeditions are still trying to reach the summit at twelve hours. The combination of Exhaustion, exposure and lack of oxygen will cause one to be left for dead just after reaching their dream.

Abandoning those that are dying is unconscionable under normal circumstances, but it is the norm for Everest. It is just too dangerous. Rob Hall, a New Zealand mountain climber and expedition leader, died while trying to help a postal worker in the Everest Disaster of 1996. Henson had ignored Hall’s orders to turn around, and Hall felt compelled to stay with him to the summit. When altitude sickness rendered Hansen unable to move, and despite being advised to leave Hansen, Hall stayed. A blizzard then moved in, and Hall was trapped and died. His body is still up there somewhere.

Many bodies are still there. It is just impossible to retrieve them and many lay where they died. This one story, copied from the internet, is particularly eerie and interesting.









Hannelore Schmatz

In 1979, Hannelore Schmatz died on her descent after summiting. At the time she was the first woman to die on the upper slopes of Everest. Exhausted and caught at 8,300 meters (27,200 feet) just below the summit, Ms. Schmatz and another climber made the decision to bivouac as darkness fell. The Sherpa’s urged her and American climber Ray Gennet to descend, but they laid down to rest and never got up.

Genet’s body disappeared and has never been seen, but for years, climbers would pass the frozen remains of Ms. Schmatz, still sitting and leaning against her pack, eyes wide open and long hair blowing in the constant wind.

A climber who had to pass her body to reach the summit described the experience:

“It’s not far now. I cannot escape the sinister guard. Approximately 100 meters above Camp IV she sits leaning against her pack, as if taking a short break. A woman with her eyes wide open and her hair waving in each gust of wind…..it feels as if she follows me with her eyes as I pass by. Her presence reminds me that we are here on the conditions of the mountain.”

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I have a morbid curiosity about such things, but climbers walking past, sometimes over, dead bodies to reach the summit, is not the biggest controversy. It is climbers walking passed the dying to reach the summit. The story of British climber David Sharp is hard for many of us who do not climb to understand. In 2006, Sharp climbed the mountain on his own. No expedition, no sherpas, no partner, he was alone. He was above 26000 feet for over 24 hours until exhaustion, frigid temperatures, and altitude sickness took their toll, and he sat in Green Boots cave. The cave is so named for the dead climber who lays there wearing green climbing boots. He is an Indian climber who also died in the 1996 Everest disaster, but sitting or lying down is not ever advised. Once one goes to sleep, they usually do not wake up.

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This photo is David Sharp, probably dead.

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Anyways, Sharp was sitting next to Green Boots, and up to 40 climbers passed him. Many thought he was a corpse, but one crew, with a camera, found he was still alive. Sharp could not talk. His face was frost bitten and he was nearly frozen. The group figured he was just about dead and continued their track to the summit. When they came back down nine hours later, they checked on Sharp again, and he was still alive, barely, but alive. Sherpas were sent for, and they pulled Sharp out of the hole. When they pulled him out, he stayed in the sitting position. He was frozen nearly solid, but somehow alive. They tried to give him oxygen, but it was way too late. He died within a few hours. Many wonder if such help had been sent nine hours earlier, what might have been done. It should be mentioned, he could not walk. It is dangerous and even Sharp's parents stated David would not want anyone risking their lives to save him. He understood the risks, especially going alone, though it is hard for many of us to understand, but we are also not 26000 feet up in minus 40 degree temperature.

The highest mountains, like Everest and K2, have an odd understanding among those who climb. If you get in trouble up there, you are likely to become a frozen land mark. Most bodies lay where they died, but if near an edge or hanging, they are usually cut loose and pushed over the edge to join the others in the frozen mass graves at the bottom of the Kangshung face or the North Face of the mountain.

In 1998, Francis Arsentiev climbed Everest with her husband. A storm hit, they got seperated, but he made it to camp. After he was told she was not back, he went looking for her. She was found later by a climber stuck on the North face attached to her rope. Her husband's axe was there but he was gone. She was begging for help, but she was near death and in a very dangerous area, probably after a fall, and like many others, was left for dead. Her corpse layed on that face, unreachable but in plain sight for nine years. They called her sleeping beauty. In 2007, the climber that had to leave her, felt guilt, but made a special trip, and risked his life, to cut her down and let her roll down the face to join her husband who had been found at the bottom in 2000.

There are many stories and photos easily found in an internet search. I have read much on the 1996 disaster, and I hope people enjoy this little introduction to the dark side of Mount Everest.

Edited by AREA 51

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This is real footage, and at 41:46, is where they pull Sharp out, one can tell he is nearly frozen solid, his face black with frost bite, yet barely alive. When he gets oxygen he will recover slightly, but he is too far gone.

This is a documentary on the David Sharp death. A camera crew happened to be there filming a double amputee climb, and thus they were critcized the most, because their actions were on tape. Yet, 40 other climbers also left Sharp.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yhdk8MnW-gs

Edited by AREA 51

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This is a photo of climbers going to retrieve the body of Francys Arsentiev from where she was left for years. The bottom photo is her body covered with a flag at the bottom of the mountian where she now rests out of sight.

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everest-francys-1.jpg

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That's some brutal ****! Not for me. I have more than enough "regular life" day to day challenges to deal with. Besides, I ain't spending 40G to do it.

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Area51, I've climbed a number of mnts and have been in Very rare air. It seems that with each climb, no matter the mnt, there are rescues and even deaths on each. Many teams I've climbed with have detoured to aid stricken climbers. On a summit day, as I was guiding on Rainer, 2 climbers whom I had shared a break up high with, fell to their deaths 200 yards under me, while I was summitting. We got reports of fallin climbers, so we pealed off quick and went looking for them. A pack was all that was found.

As for Everest, its become treacherous even more so with all the newbie climber whose ticket was a Price. I've seen everest teams with folks on it who couldn't summit Rainer by themselves, but there they are non the less. Its made it much more dangerous, and it puts other teams at risk including their summit bid.

The mnts are littered with bodies up above 20,000 ft. in the Everest chains. It literally takes too much effort to dislodge a frozen body up high, cause everyone's inner clock is ticking saying, get down, at all costs...Its a sad way to pass a body, and there are teams who have done all the work, putting in the route, whose summit bids go up n smoke cause of careless, weak climbers who shouldn't have been there in the 1st place.

How to control this problem? I'd be for a resume condition, to get a pass onto the summit. But, many folks just Buy there way up, putting everyone in danger nontheless.

Good article, sad facts.

silentbob1272 and AREA 51 like this

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There are some very good documentaries on Netflix about climbing Everest.

There are some very good documentaries on Netflix about climbing Everest.

I watched the a few of them. The IMAX film was made just after the 1996 Everest disaster. The crew was there, but stayed in base camp the night the storm hit. The were the ones that found Rob Hall and Scott Fisher's bodies.

Into Thin Air, is the TV movie on the 1996 Everest Disaster, based on the book by Jon Krakauer. Krakauer, who also wrote Into the Wild, happened to be climbing Everest in Hall's expedition that day. Talk about having book material fall in your lap, but he reached the summit and made it back down to camp. This movie was on the cheap and you can tell, but a feature film about the disaster is due out in 2015. Jake Gyllenhaal will play Scott Fischer.

I have watched that reality one as well. It only had thirteen episodes.

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2 things that are NOT on my bucket list:

- Climbing Everest

- Climbing K2

If you want to do it, good luck. Not for me.

I agree. If one is a mountain climber, then that is something you shoot for, but for ordinary folks just wanting to do it to say they did it, I will not understand that, but it is not for me.

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I agree. If one is a mountain climber, then that is something you shoot for, but for ordinary folks just wanting to do it to say they did it, I will not understand that, but it is not for me.

No K2 for me....Everest has lost its appeal as well for me...I'd rather stay in South America or Alaska. There are plenty of great climbs in the himalaya I'd rather pursue.

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The clip of Rob Hall talking to his wife for the last time is one of the most heartbreaking things I've ever heard. I still think about it.

That scene is tough. In the documentary, The Storm, which I found on youtube about this event, the woman at base camp who linked the call, describes how heartbreaking it was.

The thing is, I had ignored the Into Thin Air movie until I read about what it was based on. I am kind of anxious for the feature film on that event now. It is called, simply enough, Everest.

Edited by AREA 51

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No K2 for me....Everest has lost its appeal as well for me...I'd rather stay in South America or Alaska. There are plenty of great climbs in the himalaya I'd rather pursue.

I think you should reconsider. If I were you, to really test myself, I'd attempt the climb with no equipment...or coat....or shoes.

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No K2 for me....Everest has lost its appeal as well for me...I'd rather stay in South America or Alaska. There are plenty of great climbs in the himalaya I'd rather pursue.

I can get obsessed about learning all I can on nearly anything, so despite not ever climbing anything higher than Stone Mountain, I have managed to learn a bit about mountian climbing. On paper anyways, so I know that K2, though lower than Everest, is actually harder to climb and one needs actual technical climbing skill to reach the peak.

Being more difficult to climb, K2 keeps things real, so only 302 have reached the summit with 80 deaths. That comes out to one death for ever four who summit. Everest, I believe, has improved to one death for every ten who summit.

Edited by AREA 51

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1) Thread is not political.

2) Topic is interesting and educational

I always try. I have posted many non- political threads, but they usually do not get much attention.

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I can get obsessed about learning all I can on nearly anything, so despite not ever climbing anything higher than Stone Mountain, I have managed to learn a bit about mountian climbing. On paper anyways, so I know that K2, though lower than Everest, is actually harder to climb and one needs actual technical climbing skill to reach the peak.

Being more difficult to climb, K2 keeps things real, so only 302 have reached the summit with 80 deaths. That comes out to one death for ever four who summit. Everest, I believe, has improved to one death for every ten who summit.

Yes, K2 is a more techinical climb then the Normal Everest route. When you get above 24k feet it doesn't matter. The altitude is an absolute killer so 29k, 28k makes no real difference. K2's routes are more vertical with a number of Huge cornice over hangs. There is alot of coluer climbing, which are chutes of rock and ice vertically hanging....K2 is well known for its bad weather, as is everest but packing a bit more punch where its located. K2 is also much harder to get too..You will never see novice climbers on k2, so the climbers who go all are Hard men, lots of experience, and even then the mnt takes 1 of 4.

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Yes, K2 is a more techinical climb then the Normal Everest route. When you get above 24k feet it doesn't matter. The altitude is an absolute killer so 29k, 28k makes no real difference. K2's routes are more vertical with a number of Huge cornice over hangs. There is alot of coluer climbing, which are chutes of rock and ice vertically hanging....K2 is well known for its bad weather, as is everest but packing a bit more punch where its located. K2 is also much harder to get too..You will never see novice climbers on k2, so the climbers who go all are Hard men, lots of experience, and even then the mnt takes 1 of 4.

I completely understand that standing on Everest or K2 is unbelievable. I also know, photos and videos do not do their enormity justice, but the risk involved I just believe is too high for a recreational activity. Besides that, I am about to be 46 and just learned what a crampon is, but I would love just to see the mountains in person, to get the proper perspective of how high they really are.

Mountain climbing has to be an inborn desire. I mean, I understand the need for excitement and thrills, but the environment is harsh and the climb is so dangerous, with little room for error, to attempt such an endeavor one would have to ignore the self preservation instinct that would surely kick in when contemplating such a climb.

That fact, is part of the reason I read up on climbing, and it appears, at least with experienced, passionate climbers, that they fully realize that death is not only a possibility, but a high probability. That, I think, is what the new breed of amatuer climbers have yet to grasp like Shriya Shah-Klorfine, who had absolutely no climbing experience at all. She died below the summit on descent, but she probably never considered death a real possiblity.

Edited by AREA 51

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I completely understand that standing on Everest or K2 is unbelievable. I also know, photos and videos do not do their enormity justice, but the risk involved I just believe is too high for a recreational activity. Besides that, I am about to be 46 and just learned what a crampon is, but I would love just to see the mountains in person, to get the proper perspective of how high they really are.

Mountain climbing has to be an inborn desire. I mean, I understand the need for excitement and thrills, but the environment is harsh and the climb is so dangerous, with little room for error, to attempt such an endeavor one would have to ignore the self preservation instinct that would surely kick in when contemplating such a climb.

That fact, is part of the reason I read up on climbing, and it appears, at least with experienced, passionate climbers, that they fully realize that death is not only a possibility, but a high probability. That, I think, is what the new breed of amatuer climbers have yet to grasp like Shriya Shah-Klorfine, who had absolutely no climbing experience at all. She died below the summit on descent, but she probably never considered death a real possiblity.

The good thing area51 is there are many lower mountains, say in the cascades that you could climb, assisted in a day in a half. They are exciting as well. RMI does Rainer climbs which Rainer is an everest staging mountain, meaning you get all the stages on Rainer as you will see, minus the altitude as for Everest. I took my brother up 3 mountains while he was early 40's. Its doable and pretty awesome. I'd also suggest Everest base camp tours. They go out of Katmandou and take a week or alittle more. ITs cool as well.

Climbers climb knowing the dangers. Like any other extreme sport we all feel invincible when we're young and then thru error, lack of judgement, we injure ourselves and wise up as we get older. In climbing, true hard climbing, the envelope closes pretty quick. Extended periods at high altitude can have a long lasting effect on your brain...There are very few great old climbers. They usually die pushing the envelope. Many of the well known have been killed by avalanches, and then the most notorious was in 96 on everest. That was PURE stupidity.

Its a sport but its a serious endevour. I stopped high altitude climbs when my kids got to be older. Just wasn't worth it any longer.

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question...

...why couldnt they parachute down the 3000ft?

Dragging a parachute and pressure suit up that mountain only makes it tougher and the winds make descent uncontrollable

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