Mount Everest will kill you
Two weeks ago I read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. The book is a harrowing detailed account of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster that killed 8 people.
After reaching the summit late, three expeditions, led by experienced guides, were caught in a freak blizzard upon their descent.
Naturally after reading the book I became obsessed with learning everything about Mount Everest. The first person to reach the summit was a New Zealander by the name of Edmund Hillary in 1953.
Before then there were many unsuccessful and deadly attempts by a plethora of explorers and adventurers. Reaching the summit is next to impossible for ordinary people like myself, because the air is so thin and the terrain so treacherous. Soon after base camp, climbers must make their way through a region known as Khumbu Icefall, which is formed of a glacier that moves at such a speed that large crevasses open with little warning and towers of seracs collapse, sometimes crushing climbers or hurdling them to their deaths.
One in four people attempting to climb Mount Everest die, and the south summit is littered with corpses. It’s too dangerous for survivors to carry the dead bodies down to base camp, and climbers are often forced to abandon dying colleagues because there are limited effective rescue options at that altitude.
None of the dead bodies from the events of 1996 have been removed, and there have been attempts, but they’ve all been aborted.
One example of how challenging it is to rescue someone on Mount Everest is the story of David Sharp, an English mountaineer who died near the summit in 2008. There is actual footage that you can find on YouTube of Sharp dying. Overcome by cold on the south summit, Sharp found refuge on the outskirts of a cave, next to the body known as Green Boots, who was one of the victims of the 1996 disaster. Over 20 climbers walked right by Sharp, as they made their way to the summit. Some of them believed that he was dead, and a few, because it was so dark, didn’t even see him. Some mistook him for Green Boots, whose body serves as a landmark to the summit. Eventually a small group of climbers stopped to help warm Sharp, but made the difficult decision to abandon him to save their own lives. This is the footage that you can find on YouTube. I warn you, it is disturbing.
The altitude at that level, without supplemental oxygen, can produce hallucinations, and a variety of other side effects, including brain hemorrhaging. No one is really sure what happened to Sharp, but exposure to the freezing temperatures is what eventually did him in.
Krakauer wrote Into Thin Air from a unique perspective: He was part of the expedition that lost the most lives during the storm in 1996. He published the book soon after and was greeted by a lot of anger from the families of the victims who felt that he negatively portrayed their deceased relatives.
After completing the book, I learned that those who climb Everest are nuts. I’m not saying that they should be committed, but their desire to conquer the deadly heights of the world’s highest ceiling is an obsession and exercise in devout fanaticism that defies explanation or understanding.
Beck Weathers, who was left for dead that evening, and whose cries for help were deafened by the noise of the blizzard, said that his motivation to climb Everest was derived from a severe depression as a result of a failing marriage. The only way that he could purge his suppressed emotions was to punish his body by embarking on an excruciating physical journey. Weathers fared the worst out of all the survivors, both of his arms were amputated due to severe frostbite, and his nose had to be reconstructed after he was exposed to the extreme elements for over 24 hours.
Read the book. That’s all I can say.
Here is the trailer of a PBS documentary about the disaster.