In a bit of macabre but fascinating news out of Everest, officials in the area have been dealing with the unpleasant issue of dozens of dead climbers’ bodies gradually being exposed on the mountain as climate change causes Everest’s glaciers to retreat. Almost 300 climbers are known to have died on Everest and it’s estimated that more than 200 bodies remain on the mountain, many of which have been entombed in ice for decades.
“We have brought down dead bodies of some mountaineers who died in recent years, but the old ones that remained buried are now coming out,” said former Nepal Mountaineering Association head Ang Tshering Sherpa. Most of the bodies have been found on the Khumbu Icefall, which is prone to giving up frozen bodies as the ice shifts, as well as the South Col’s Camp 4, a flat expanse of ice where hands and feet are occasionally exposed as the ice melts away. It’s difficult and expensive to bring the bodies down off the mountain, authorities say, costing anywhere from $4k to $80k per removal.
It’s a logistical challenge to remove a body from the slopes of Everest. Some are quite heavy, others are in places very difficult to reach, and most of the recovery work takes place at dangerously high altitudes. The difficulty and danger of recovering bodies raises the question of whether or not it’s worth risking the lives of fellow climbers, typically members of the Sherpa community, to recover the bodies of the dead. Not to mention having to determine who bears the financial cost. And, of course, it’s gruesome, unpleasant work.
“Most of the dead bodies we bring to the towns, but those we can’t bring down we respect by saying prayers for them and covering them with rock or snow,” said Tenzeeng Sherpa, of the National Mountain Guides Association.