Men lost 172 times to the awesome mountain
Fall in crevasse, avalanche, exhaustion, exposure, coma, pulmonary edema, frostbite, altitude sickness -- the Everest list of the dead makes for chilling readingUpdated: May 28, 2003 11:54 IST
Fall in crevasse, avalanche, exhaustion, exposure, coma, pulmonary edema, frostbite, altitude sickness -- the Everest list of the dead makes for chilling reading.
Even more numbing, perhaps, are the entries that simply read, "disappeared".
With 172 people listed among the dead and disappeared, few, if any, of the 1,163 alpinists who have made it to the top of the world would not have been confronted with the brutal reality that an encounter with Everest could bring glory, fulfillment and fame, but could equally bring death.
All those attempting the challenge are constantly reminded of this fact by the estimated 41 bodies that litter the mountain, especially the North side.
Most of the dead simply ran out of steam and expired on the route or fell a few meters (yard) down the mountain, and are now sitting or lying frozen in time.
The remains of Maurice Wilson, "the mad Yorkeshireman" who attempted a solo ascent of Everest in 1934, for instance, surface periodically from within the Rongbuk Glacier -- a macabre warning to those who are not fully prepared.
Some climbers have been found frozen and dangling from ropes after apparently slipping and falling.
According to accepted tradition, in such cases, fellow climbers simply cut the ropes and allow the bodies to tumble down the mountain until they come to rest in the snow -- where they will lie probably forever.
During the summer, when there is something of a thaw, birds eat away parts of the bodies, leaving gruesome sights for those ascending -- and sharp warnings for those descending.
"Coming down is far more dangerous than going up," said Wangchu Sherpa, president of the Everest Summiters Association.
"Climbers are very excited because they have accomplished their dream. But they are also physically exhausted. They have been on the go for 15 to 20 hours under most demanding circumstances. It is easy to make a mistake. It is easy to slip and fall."
Storms and avalanches account for many fatalities, as does inexperience, factors stated for the large number of deaths -- 15 -- on Everest in 1996.
On May 10 of that year, five commercial expeditions -- people paying large amounts of money to be guided to the top -- attempted to summit.
While 24 reached the top, a ferocious storm hit the mountain during the descent, killing five of them and maiming one badly.
But even the most experienced climbers can make mistakes.
After having summited 10 times, legendary Nepalese climber Babu Chhiri Sherpa died during an 11th attempt on May 26, 2001.
In the list of the dead contained in the book "Nepalese Climbers on Mount Everest" by Ang Phurba Sherpa and Ramesh Raj Kunwar, Chhiri's name is followed by cause of death -- "fall in crevasse".
For days after the accident, however, his fellow Sherpas refused to believe he was dead, claiming the famed "snow emperor" was still alive in the crevasse.
They eventually had to accept, however, that even the toughest and most skilled mountaineers could make fatal mistakes and are now creating a special monument to Chhiri on the edge of Kathmandu.
Besides, Chhiri's name will be displayed, along with the names of all others alpinists who have died on Everest, at the newly-established International Mountaineers Memorial Park near the village of Kakani, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Kathmandu.
The park is a lonely, windwhipped hillside sparsely dotted with trees and strung with Buddhist prayer-flags, near a monastery.
The Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA), which established the park, wants the memory of those who died on the mountain to be honoured for all time.
And with about a third of all deaths being those of Nepalese Sherpas, the park allows families a place where they can pay their respects to loved ones who never returned from Everest, says NMA president Ang Tshering Sherpa.
On Wednesday next week, a day before the main celebrations to mark the first conquest of Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa on May 29, 1953, mountaineers from across the world will visit the park to plant saplings in honour of the dead, he said.
Among them will be those whose companions have died or disappeared or who have themselves stared directly into the mountain's jaws of death -- but managed to escape
First Published: May 27, 2003 17:22 IST