Corpses on Everest
November 2, 2005 12:41 AM   Subscribe

I hear that the path one takes while climbing Mt. Everest is littered with the dead bodies of people who have failed in their attempts to summit (1, 2, 3). The wikipedia artcle alludes to the fact that the bodies are "...easily visible from the standard climbing routes."

Well... I've seen a ton of shots of the summit, so I know they've taken cameras up the sonofabitch. And I know something about the morbid human fascination with his impermanence. So the thing I'd like to know is... where are the pictures?

Not trying to be ghoulish, at all. Just... I can't stop thinking about the creepyness of stepping over perfectly-preserved corpses while persuing a perfectly optional "leisure" activity.

They don't have to be graphic, but they have to exist... somewhere. I've googled every way I know how. Surely someone must know where they keep them. Thanks for any help you can provide.
posted by cadastral to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Well, here's Mallory. You might want to ask around on that site, but be delicate: I think the primary reason that you hardly see Everest corpse photos is that climbers have a natural and deep respect for those who have perished there.

They either haven't taken photos, or haven't had time to, or have done but keep the photos very much to themselves. That's a guess because I haven't seen any others either; I just happened to remember seeing that Mallory shot so knew it was online for a fact.
posted by paperpete at 1:49 AM on November 2, 2005

So, after they took that picture...did they leave him there? Bury him? Bring him home?

Nice topic cadastral.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:05 AM on November 2, 2005

furiousxgeorge: From what I recall, the 1999 expedition built a cairn over the body.
posted by Leon at 4:01 AM on November 2, 2005

Leon: yes, that's true

" The team members committed the body to the mountain with a religious ceremony that had been chosen by Mallory’s family in England. Copland states that because the ground is frozen, Mallory is now under a rock cairn. "

More on the difficulty of moving bodies off Everest here (from Ask Yahoo). Be sure to follow the links on that page for more.
posted by anastasiav at 5:02 AM on November 2, 2005

Best answer: Found this one from this page through some googling.
posted by jduckles at 5:17 AM on November 2, 2005

Generally if another climber takes a picture of a dead climber, they keep it to themselves. Climbers are much like soldiers, they have a deep respect for their own kind. Everest is a bit different though, as a lot of the people who attempt it these days are not really Climbers, but people who pay real climbers to guide them to the top. Much like if the Soldier of Fortune reading mall cop got to spend six months on the front lines in Iraq.

Also, time is of the essence on a summit push, and it is Really Fucking Cold, so stopping to remove your mitten liners, pull out your camera and snap a photo takes time and effort. Just doing something like that at that altitude can be exhausting in itself.

They do exist though. Look around at coffee table books of Everest, especially ones compiled by non-climbers. I think the Newsweek or Time issues from 1996 or whenever that Really Bad Day happened ,when Rob Hall and Scot Fisher died and Beck Weathers pulled a Jesus, showed a body or two.

As others have said, it's just about impossible for a healthy climber to bring a body back from up high on Everest, especially since there's really no such thing as a healthy climber at that altitude.

It's not just Everest, pretty much every big mountain has a body or two somewhere up high. Even "small" mountains like Rainier have bodies hidden in the snow, though that's more a matter of not being able to find them. They pop out of the glacier every now and then and the rangers or guides recover them.
posted by bondcliff at 6:24 AM on November 2, 2005

"pulled a Jesus?"
posted by raedyn at 6:58 AM on November 2, 2005

Came back from the dead.

Was left for dead on the mountain but managed to rouse himself after something like 14 hours to return to Base Camp 4.

Ah, here it is:

" Weathers lay unconscious and half-buried in snow for 14 hours. In the aftermath of the storm, Canadian climber Stuart Hutchison discovered what looked like Weathers' lifeless body. Hutchinson assumed Weathers had perished along with teammate Yasuko Namba, whose body lay nearby, so he left him for dead. But somehow the 49 year old doctor had somehow survived the brutal night on Everest. Severely frostbitten, nearly blind and clinging to life, Weathers regained consciousness and driven by thoughts of his wife and children, he staggered back to Camp 4. Three days later, after rescuers brought Weathers down to Camp 2, he and Taiwanese climber Makalu Gao were evacuated from the mountain by helicopter."
posted by anastasiav at 7:05 AM on November 2, 2005

raedyn- Yeah, Into Thin Air is an excellent account of this incident (the last 100 pages or so will stay with you for years), and the events in the IMAX movie Everest coincidentally occurred during the incident, and they were the ones who brought Beck Weathers back from base camp.
posted by mkultra at 7:41 AM on November 2, 2005

BTW, there is a sad and fascinating story regarding Beck Weathers and Jon Krakauer (who was among those who left Weathers for dead) that highlights the literal and figurative irrationality of climing Everest. This article provides good insight.
posted by mkultra at 7:47 AM on November 2, 2005

Wow, mkultra, that's an amazing read. "Into Thin Air" is a gripping enough narrative that I missed the moral hornet's nest almost entirely.
posted by clever sheep at 8:09 AM on November 2, 2005

Discovery Channel (in Canada) recently aired a show called "Expedition Everest", I can't recall which episode it was but this topic was covered. They interviewed the climbers, asking them what they wanted done with their bodies if they died up on the mountain and filmed at least one (if not more) of the bodies that lay near the climbing trails.
posted by squeak at 9:00 AM on November 2, 2005

Discovery's "Ultimate Survival: Everest" (sadly, not available on DVD) briefly showed bodies on the south col route. The reason why bodies aren't visible in summit photos is because people don't die on the summit. Also, climbers will push dead bodies into crevasses. Over time, these bodies will be ejected at the base of the glacier.

Unrelated to the question, but the article linked to by mkultra is sheer nonsense!
posted by Elpoca at 9:53 AM on November 2, 2005

Unrelated to the question, but the article linked to by mkultra is sheer nonsense!

Uh, care to elaborate, or are you just going to throw that out there and walk away?
posted by mkultra at 10:55 AM on November 2, 2005

I agree about it being nonsense.

Things like this:

They could have decided to bring them to camp and try to revive them.

No they couldn't have decided that. They would have had to carry them, which given the condition they were in was impossible.

Still, I wonder if it didn't have something to do with their being older and weaker.

No, it had to do with being at 8000 meters!

Krakauer never so much as raises the question why nobody spent the night looking after Weathers.

Because most of them could barely look after themselves at that point. Weathers was suffering from severe frostbite and hypothermia, there was nothing they could do anyway. Lying in the tent with him wouldn't have accomplished anything except perhaps slowing down their own recuperation.

I can understand questioning the sanity of being there in the first place, sure. But he's criticizing these people, people whose bodies weren't too far from death themselves, for not coming to the aid of others.
posted by bondcliff at 11:38 AM on November 2, 2005

Well... Two examples:

"Hutchison... finds living people, and leaves them there. Krakauer doesn't even attempt to explain this." - The rationale for this decision is explained quite clearly (and logically) in Krakauer's book.

"Thus he had accused a man of cowardice who had actually died a hero." - Krakauer never accuses the guide in question of cowardice. He, at first, simply thought that the guide had made a mistake due to the extreme weather conditions and the guide's fatigue.
posted by Elpoca at 11:39 AM on November 2, 2005

OK, I see your point there. But, the larger point he's making is still relevant- that in those conditions, the rules that we apply to "rational thinking" and "morality" simply don't apply. I thought the Auschwitz analogy was (tragically) a good one.
posted by mkultra at 12:26 PM on November 2, 2005

The analogy fits in some ways. But everyone on Everest chose to be there.
posted by raedyn at 1:53 PM on November 2, 2005


Thanks all, for the photos and the effort. Also thanks for the conversations and perspectives, which were edifying.

I hope nobody will take offence to this, and it's just my opinion, but I kind of think the "don't show the pictures to anyone outside the Deep Spiritual Brotherhood of Monied Thrillseekers" attitude that many of you describe some mountaineers as having is sort of stupid.

In a way, climbing Everest is like soldiers' experiences in Vietnam (harrowing fight to survive in a remote corner of the world... real possibility of losing close friends in completely arbitrary ways), but in most ways it's not (the single biggest way, of course, is the massively optional nature of the undertaking).

Every sympathetic person I know would give a wide berth and err on the side of being too sensitive when asking for personal interpretations and feelings from a soldier about his experience. But at the same time would be annoyed if that same soldier was openly volunteering information and lecturing from his barstool and, when queried about specifics and for his feelings, launches into (queue "shellshocked shaky soldier from Central Casting") "You wouldn't understand maaan, you can't understand, I was there!".

Seems to me that some of the mountaineers that people in this thread describe, by virtue of the fact that they are volunteering their experiences but denying the analysis of full experience based on arbitrary hangups, have launched directly into the "lecturing vet on a barstool" without even the benefit of the moral high-ground conferred on him by the mandatory nature of his service!

If there are any "celebrities" on Everest, Mallory is certainly the biggest. Most people who knew him personally are probably long dead. So showing him is probably pretty safe. The second body shown (I'll call it "Completely Spooky Gleaming White Skull") is anonymous enough to just be a picture of a body. A SPOOKY picture of a body that is given an eerie and provocative undertone when examining the context. I'm sure that most reasonable people would agree that this picture doesn't disserve or denigrate the friends, family, or former operator of that corpse. If a few uptight mountaineers think that the availability of this photo devalues their own personal experience, I'm afraid their complaints do not move me tremendously.

Off my soapbox now. Thanks guys, great work.
posted by cadastral at 2:56 PM on November 2, 2005 [2 favorites]

mkultra: You should know, when you present that article, that Krakauer became the center of a mountaineering controversy by writing his book, which among other things was critical of Anatoli Boukreev, the Ukrainian-born top climber who led the other main "tourist" group on the mountain during the events.

Boukreev wrote his own account, largely as a rebuttal: The Climb. Most professional and many experienced amateur climbers sided with Boukreev, and Krakauer is very nearly persona non grata among the community as a result. This may color, for example, reviews of his work.

For my part, I found Krakauer and Boukreev both compelling reads and didn't quite see how Krakauer's protrait of Boukreev was so libelous. *shrug*
posted by dhartung at 11:28 PM on November 2, 2005

Best answer: Followup... if anyone is still tuning in.

The forum Goons over at Somethingawful have found two more.

Both are, uh... corpses. So don't view them without caution.
posted by cadastral at 8:04 AM on November 3, 2005

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