Dead Bodies on Mount Everest: What happens to them?

The world’s tallest mountain, Mount Everest, is also one of the most dangerous and exciting destinations for trekkers. Unfortunately, death on Everest is extremely common for would be climbers. The dangerous mountain has led to over 300 deaths, and 200 dead bodies on Everest.

The highest in the world, climbing this mountain is the ultimate test for expert mountaineers, inexperienced climbers and courageous beginners. Glory among their fellow mountaineers is waiting for those who succeed—typically with the aid of paid professional sherpas familiar with the difficult terrain.

However, a lot of these climbers never return from the mountain. Have you ever wondered what happens to the dead bodies on Mount Everest? Let’s start by looking at how many dead bodies are on Mount Everest.

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What happens to the dead bodies on Mount Everest?

How many dead bodies are on Mount Everest?

It is believed that more than 200 dead bodies are on Mount Everest–some along popular routes, and others lost forever in crevasses. Between 1922 and 2022, at least 310 climbers are known to have died climbing Mount Everest.

At 26,000 feet above sea level, the extreme air pressure and low oxygen levels make it easy for climbers to succumb to the elements and die. There’s a reason this place is called the death zone. To see a full list of deaths and Mount Everest bodies on the mountain, check the list here.

When the body utilizes oxygen more quickly than it can replace it, physical functions decline, and people faint and eventually die. And it doesn’t account for the ongoing danger of slips, trips, and falls; avalanches; ice collapses; exposure to freezing temperatures and wind; or natural disasters.

The Surreal Scene Of Passing Dead Bodies On Everest While Climbing

If you’re preparing to climb Mt Everest, don’t be alarmed if you encounter a disturbing scene: a dead climber on the path wearing mountaineering gear.

This is due to the fact that Mount Everest has over 200 dead bodies still lying on the mountain. The image below is an Everest body map, that depicts where deaths occurred on Everest in terms of elevation and year.

death on Everest by altitude and year, Everest body map
Image showing the year and elevation of the different deaths on Everest

Many climbers have remained permanently on the mountain; one of them even serves as a sad monument. The unlucky climber is known as “Green Boots,” who is thought to be Indian climber Tsewang Paljor. He has been atop the mountain since 1996 when he perished during an expedition. He of course is not the only famous dead body on Mount Everest. Other notable Mount Everest bodies frozen on the mountain:

Why, then, have so many people remained on Mount Everest as their ultimate resting place?

Well, to start with, the mountain is incredibly high. Meaning that retrieval missions can be extremely dangerous and costly.

Of course, there are family members of individuals that pass away on Mount Everest who would wish to have their loved ones’ bodies taken down for a proper burial. However, due to the danger as well as cost many families opt for mountain burials for their loved ones bodies on Mt Everest.

Does Mount Everest Use Bodies as Markers?

No, Mount Everest does not use bodies as markers. While it is true that there have been unfortunate instances of climbers who have lost their lives on the mountain, their bodies are not intentionally left behind to serve as markers or waypoints for other climbers. However, areas on the south col and other regions on Everest such as the Rainbow Valley are covered with frozen bodies which climbers use to signal their location.

Leaving bodies on Mount Everest is discouraged and considered disrespectful. Efforts are made to recover and bring down the deceased, but due to the extreme conditions and high altitude of the mountain, it is not always possible to retrieve them.

The Challenges of Retrieving Dead Bodies on Mount Everest

Rescue of Body on Everest
Rescue team retrieving dead body from Mount Everest

Getting someone down, especially a dead body, is a huge undertaking. For the rescue teams, the missions are typically unpredictable and hazardous. Although some people have paid teams to bring down the bodies of their loved ones, the price of such a mission can be around $70,000, which is out of many families’ price ranges.

Rescue missions can also be deadly for the rescuers as well. Whereas, in one infamous mission to recover the body of Hannelore Schmatz in 1984, two Sherpas lost their lives.

In most environments, bodies would either decompose or be taken care of by scavengers and parasites. However, it is a totally different environment and Mount Everest bodies end up being frozen solid, with little to no deterioration over time. Without natural processes taking place, it seems that Everest has a fate of becoming one of the largest open-air cemeteries in the world. 

What Happens To The Dead Bodies on Mount Everest?

Everest’s peak experiences year-round lows that are considerably below zero. Moreover, the mountain’s average temperature fluctuates from a frigid minus four Fahrenheit to a lethal minus thirty-one Fahrenheit. These temperatures create a unique environment for both the living and the dead.

The Everest region is inhospitable to life because anything left there for an extended period of time will freeze solid. This is exactly why bodies on Everest are so frightening for climbers who see them. Whereas, with the exception of considerable cellular damage brought on by the extreme cold, the bodies are frozen in place and generally look exactly the same as when they died. 

Additionally, considering how little flesh is left exposed in climbing gear, the Everest bodies — seen by climbers every year — are sometimes reported as looking remarkably similar to when they lost their lives. A body virtually anywhere else would be little more than a skeleton after a few years.

Green Boots frozen in time on Mount Everest

Climbers never know exactly who they’ll run into on their journey, in addition to the infamous “Green Boots,” who is curled up in a cave with his boots pointing in the direction of new climbers.

Lhakpa Sherpa, a climber, found herself in that situation. She holds the record for the most summit visits by a woman, but on her ascent in 2018, she came across an incredible eight corpses. Even more unsettling, one appeared to be alive, with the frozen body’s hair waving in the choppy Everest winds.

The Growing Concern of Frozen Bodies – and Trash on the Mountain

However, a concern is growing as more climbers visit Everest. Not only are bodies starting to litter Mount Everest’s once-pristine mountain environment, but so is the debris they and other climbers leave behind. As recently as 2019, a record number of climbers visited Everest, and more than a thousand climbing permits were given out.

Additionally, they frequently don’t leave the mountain exactly as they found it. Some parts of Everest now resemble a dirty city street more than a remote, unspoiled mountain due to decades of climbing.

The Chinese and Nepalese governments are speeding up their efforts to clear the debris, but scaling Everest safely comes with risks. The issue of bringing bodies down is significantly greater. The bodies from Everest are scattered over the slopes, and many are also in extremely remote areas.

Some have perished more violently. Such as climbers who fell to their deaths in deep crevasses, while others died from exposure or a lack of oxygen and just lay down by the side of a route.

Mount Everest Dead Bodies: Not Staying Put

However, what’s even more disturbing is that some bodies aren’t staying put. On Everest, nature is strong, and that strength is sufficient to uproot bodies from their ultimate resting place.

Gale-force winds may readily take up a body weighing around 150 pounds and carry it to a new spot, while moving glaciers can deposit bodies in inaccessible places or crush them behind large ice blocks.

Even the well-known “Green Boots” was relocated from its original site in 2014, making the landmark much more difficult to find. It’s a complex problem in more ways than one because the mountain maintains a tight hold on those who slumber there for eternity.

Pressure to remove many of the dead from Everest is mounting. Many families want their loved ones returned, and the growing quantity of bodies on Everest may pose a risk to climbers. Additionally, many Sherpas and others who practice the local traditions think it is insulting to the Gods to leave the corpses of climbers on the mountain.

Removing The Bodies is Already a Difficult Task..

Removing the bodies is already difficult, but it may only be the beginning of the challenges.

There are primarily two methods for removing a body from Everest. The first involves deploying helicopters comparable to those used for high-altitude rescues, which is costly and dangerous. Rescue operations at Everest’s peak are hazardous as even the most skilled rescue pilots must battle with the elements.

Hiring an expedition to ascend the mountain, find the body, and bring it off is a cheaper alternative to using a helicopter. This technique is more cost-effective for recovering a body, but both pose a large danger to the teams trying to bring the dead off Mount Everest. Additionally, they would have to get the bodies close to Everest Base Camp, below they could safely remove them as well.

How, then, is it decided whether a body stays or departs? The bereaved family makes the decision the majority of the time. However, this is a difficult choice that entails substantial financial risk and potential danger to the rescuer’s life.

Because of this, many climbers resolve the matter by signing body disposal paperwork before their ascent. They can request a body recovery in advance or choose to be left on the mountain to remain. If they do decide to have their body recovered, many prefer local cremation, which will undoubtedly reduce the expense of returning their remains to their home countries.

Climate Change on Everest – Hidden Bodies Becoming Visible

Death on Everest-Frozen body
Frozen bodies are becoming visible on Everest

However, recent developments have made this frozen cemetery a more urgent issue. With global warming and as the earth warms, many locations that were once completely hidden by snow are becoming visible.

As the snow melts in the summer months and long-buried bodies that might not be in great condition are revealed, climbers claim that dismal discoveries on the peak are becoming more frequent.

It’s not uncommon to find old bones and even entire bodies. This could enable some families who lost loved ones on the mountain to find closure, but it could also further harm Everest’s natural beauty. Additionally, if the mountain’s thick ice cap keeps melting, it might become considerably harder to ascend.

Because of this, Nepal and China are considering taking action. The tourist ministry of Nepal has gathered the names of long-missing climbers and dispatched volunteers up the mountain to collect garbage and bodies. However, doing so is still dangerous and only occasionally undertaken.

Climbers and Locals Calling for Action

However, some supporters of the mountain are calling for more extreme action. Every spring during the peak climbing season, a thousand or so international climbers attempt the mountain. All in an effort to add to the more than 8,000 climbers who have succeeded in reaching the summit since 1953.

However, many more will fall short along the way, some will pass away, and many will leave behind more rubbish.

While many climbers utilize their climb to raise money for charity and the Nepalese government charges a levy to each climber to protect the mountain, more individuals are debating if the ritual of ascending the mountain is doing more damage than good.

They contend that in order to prevent further deterioration and damage, it may be necessary to ban foreign visitors from the summit. And, to avoid the number of permanent residents on Everest from growing.

2023 Update about Death on Everest:

The unofficial conclusion of the 2023 spring climbing season on Mount Everest has been marked by the return of monsoons and high winds to the Khumbu Valley, closing the window of favorable weather on the world’s highest peak. Unfortunately, 2023 has been characterized by chaos and tragedy. Prompting climbers and Everest expeditions to reflect on the immense challenges they faced.

As of July 1st, reports show that 12 climbers have lost their lives including three in the Khumbu Icefall. Five climbers remain missing. The current death toll ranks as the fourth-highest in Everest’s history, surpassed only by the years 2015, 1996, and 2014, which saw 13, 15, and 16 fatalities respectively. If the five missing individuals are declared deceased, 2023 will be remembered as the deadliest year for climbers on this peak, with a total of 17 fatalities.

Mount Everest Bodies: What happens to them?

Unfortunately, death on Everest means being frozen in time forever. With over 200 dead bodies on Everest, it is not unlikely to pass a dead body while climbing the mountain. The price to retrieve bodies, and return them to their families means it is not feasible for many.

To answer the question of what happens to the dead bodies on Everest, it is a sad reality. The majority of them – over 200 out of the recorded 310 – end up being left atop the mountain.

FAQs: Death on Everest: What happens to the dead bodies?

Everest is a major accomplishment in many climbers’ lives. However, for some, the adventure ends up being their final resting place. This section answers some of the most frequently asked questions regarding death on Everest.

1. Do bodies decompose on Everest?

No, they do not decompose. In less than four hours after passing away, most bodies freeze to the slope. Due to the temperature, these corpses remain frozen 365 days a year. As a result, despite having been abandoned for years, most bodies are almost completely preserved.

2. What happens to dead bodies on Everest?

As it is customary to leave the deceased where they are, bodies are left on the mountainside to spend eternity as both ghastly mile markers and a warning to climbers. Nearly every climber had to cross one of the most famous corpses, “Green Boots,” to get to the summit.

Unfortunately, taking bodies down the mountain is extremely dangerous and costly. Therefore, if someone meets their untimely death on Everest, their body will be left there to be frozen in time. 

3. What is the oldest body on Mount Everest?

On May 1, 1999, the oldest known body was discovered on Mount Everest. Seventy-five years after his 1924 death, George Mallory’s body was found following an abnormally warm spring. George Mallory had sought to be the first person to summit Everest. However, he vanished before anyone found out if he had summited or not.

4. Where is Green Boots Today?

Green Boots has been on Everest for almost 25 years. Someone buried the body with snow and stones at the family’s request. Between 2014 and 2017, nobody saw Green Boots. However, the body became visible again in 2017 as the snow melted away.

5. Why are bodies not removed from Everest?

It is dangerous work to remove bodies from the death zone. Moreover, it is expensive, dangerous, and extremely hazardous for the Sherpas who are assigned to retrieve the bodies from Everest.

6. Has Green Boots been removed?

In 2014, a Chinese team removed Green Boots’ body from the his famous resting place in the cave. The body is still on Everest but has been moved out of sight and is now much harder to locate.

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