The Death Zone

 Climbing the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest, is on the bucket list of countless adventurous individuals. Part of The Himalayas, Mount Everest’s peak towers at 29,029 feet (8,848 meters) above sea level and marks the border between the countries of Nepal, to the south, and Tibet to the north. In Nepal, Everest is known as “Sagarmatha” and in Tibet call the mountain “Chomolungma”. The cost of climbing Mount Everest is $25,000 – $60,000 (16,660 – 39,700 pounds) but ultimately, some pay with their lives.

  In recent years, Mount Everest has become notorious for an area known as “The Death Zone” which is the final resting place for over 200 climbers who lost their lives during their attempt to reach the mountain’s peak.

“The Death Zone” is located 26,000 feet (7,925 meters) above sea level where oxygen is so scarce, all but the most experienced climbers must breathe with the assistance of air-filled canisters. Only 1/3 of the oxygen available at sea level is present in the Death Zone; Therefore, climbers who attempt to summit without the aid of an oxygen bottle or those who run out will face oxygen depletion which can eventually lead to death. Oxygen depletion causes hallucinations and fatigue, often climbers suffering from a lack of oxygen will sit down and give up for no apparent reason, only to die hours later.

 Mount Everest partially punctures the stratosphere creating an environment which is in a constant state of subzero temperatures and can drop to -100 degrees Fahrenheit (-73 degrees Celsius). Jet stream winds reach speeds of 200 miles/hour (320 kilometers/hr), literally blowing climbers off the face of the mountain, never to be seen again.

  Any exposed skin will immediately become frostbitten which can lead to gangrene and in many cases, amputation. Due to the incredibly severe conditions this high above sea level, when a climber is in danger, not much that can be done to help. Often times, assisting a fellow climber in a deadly situation could led to your own death.

 In 2006 the death of British climber David Sharp caused quite a bit of controversy in the media. Despite the fact that at least 40 people climbing the mountain that day passed directly by him on their way to the summit while he was still alive, only a few stopped to help. He was severely frostbitten and suffering from oxygen depletion. According to those who stopped to tend to him, he was far beyond help. Eventually, he had to be left behind on the mountain to die. The media called the actions of these climbers who left David Sharp “callous”. While it is certainly easy to sit in a temperature-controlled environment in judgement of those who left a fellow summiter to die, only those who were there will ever know if anything could have been done to save him. Conditions on the mountain are so deadly, each hopeful summiter must sign a “body disposal” form which asks the preferred choice for your body, should you die at any point during your climb; Return home, return to Kathmandu (capital of Nepal) or remain on the mountain.

  Surprisingly, many choose for their body to remain on the mountain where they died. In fact, when local Sherpas, who believe leaving dead bodies on the mountain to be disrespectful to the mountain gods, attempted to remove several of the deceased, two families came forward asking that their loved ones remain where they met their demise. Many times, those who were with them on their fatal climb will return to give the body a “burial”, usually moving the body out of view from the mountain’s path or concealing their corpse with large stones.

 Many times, bodies cannot be recovered from the Death Zone. A recovery attempt would require 5-10 highly experienced Sherpas, even then, recovery may be impossible and the effort could easily claim another life. It costs approximately $30,000 to return a corpse to its native country.

 The south side of the mountain is considered to be “cleaner”. Most bodies on the southern, Nepalese side of the mountain have, at the very least, been removed from the main path. Only recently, helicopters have become able for use in the recovery of bodies; However, the body must be moved as far as a base camp on the south side of the mountain. The north side, which is controlled by the Chinese government, does not allow helicopter use for any purpose. The north side is notorious for being the more dangerous route with a far higher death rate than the south. On the northeastern side of the mountain lies “Rainbow Valley”. Despite its Care Bear-esque name, the area was dubbed as “Rainbow Valley” for the numerous corpses dressed in multicolored down jackets which line the main path.

  David Bashears, five time summiteer of Everest confessed, “There had been nothing in my training to prepare me to pass through the open graveyard waiting above.”

Did You Know?
On May 29th, 1953 Sir Edmond Hillary and his Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, became the first known people to reach Mount Everest’s summit. When Hillary died, his family wished to have his cremains scattered from atop the mountain, but the Nepalese government intervene and would not allow it.

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