Emma infodumps: The bodies on Everest

design: Mazzy Seigneur
permission to print photos: Emma Clute

There are about 200 dead bodies on Mount Everest, some of which have been there for over 50 years. They’re just there. This number includes people who died from avalanches, exposure, falling, exhaustion, altitude sickness and more. Due to the danger of recovering the bodies in low oxygen areas, most of them stay there indefinitely. It’s crazy to me that there are so many of them that will likely never come down.

Some of the bodies are so close to the main route that they have even become landmarks for the climbers. “Green Boots” is the most famous of these. He’s an unidentified man who’s in a cave on the Northeast route, and he’s noticeable because of his bright green boots. It’s believed that he has been there since the 1990s and since then, his body has become an indicator for climbers that they’re almost at the top of the mountain, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

About 300 people have died on the mountain. At the high altitude, it can be hard to move forward and be able to make decisions, and if there’s not enough oxygen to continue, there’s not much to be done.

In May 2019, Mount Everest got a lot of attention for a viral photo showing a long line leading up to the top of the mountain. The wait to reach the summit was hours long and many of the climbers stayed in the death zone for longer than necessary as a result.

The death zone is a place where there’s not enough oxygen to sustain human life for extended periods of time, and it starts at about 8,000 meters. Mount Everest reaches 8,849 meters, making a sizable portion of the mountain deadly for climbers. A long period of time that high up without supplementary oxygen will ultimately result in death.

But, even with supplementary oxygen, death in this zone is more than possible. Air runs out quickly and decisions made on Mount Everest can be life-or-death when delays slow down the process of getting off of the mountain. There is simply not enough air at that high of an altitude and the body begins to slowly shut down the second it’s starved of oxygen, according to Business Insider.

In the past, the only people who climbed the mountain were Sherpas and trained mountaineers, but with more thrill seekers looking for their next high and more companies willing to take inexperienced (and unprepared) climbers up the mountain for an extra buck, crowding has dramatically increased, according to Insider. The amount of people dying has also increased.

11 people died in May 2019 (when the viral photo was taken), and it was declared one of the deadliest climbing seasons the mountain had ever seen. One climber on that expedition told the New York Times that it was like a zoo at the top of the mountain and that he had to climb over the body of a woman who had just died in order to keep moving forward.

Not only have there been more deaths with the increased number of climbers, but there has also been more pollution. In 2019, an initiative called Bally Peak Outlook was launched to preserve and combat pollution on the extreme mountains of the world, including Everest.

Their clean-up expedition from one of the base camps (campsites used by climbers during their ascent and descent) to the summit of Mount Everest in May 2019 was the first to ever reach the top of the mountain. Over a ton of garbage was collected, according to the Telegraph.

Unfortunately for climbers (or maybe fortunately), Mount Everest closed in March 2020 due to COVID-19 and Peak Outlook had the mountain to themselves. On Sept. 9, 2020, they set out to further clean the base camps and were there for 47 days. They removed 2.2 tons of garbage, according to the Telegraph.

Mount Everest reopened to climbers in April under strict COVID safety guidelines. It’s my hope that some changes will be made soon to modify the required qualifications for climbers, and the amount of people allowed up there at one time to avoid the ever-increasing number of deaths on the mountain.