There are countless corpses on Mount Everest, so why are hundreds of climbers heading to the “Death Zone” this spring?



CNN

Thick, foggy clouds fill the sky, with freezing winds blowing snow at speeds of more than 100 miles per hour. With a frigid temperature of -30 degrees Fahrenheit, life-threatening blizzards and avalanches are frequent.

These are typical conditions on the highest mountain in the world: Mount Everest.

The giant tower stands 29,032 feet (8,849 meters) high between Nepal and Tibet in the Himalayas, and its peak towers above most of the clouds in the sky.

Attempting to climb Mount Everest requires months, sometimes years, of training and conditioning – and even then, reaching the summit is never guaranteed. In fact, more than It is known that 300 people died on the mountain.

However, the mountain still attracts hundreds of climbers determined to reach its summit every spring. Here's what it takes to do the climbing and what has propelled some climbers to the top of the world's highest peak.

Dr. Jacob Wiesel, a trauma surgeon, successfully climbed Mount Everest last May after conditioning for nearly a year.

“I was wearing a 50-pound backpack and doing two-hour walks up the stairs with no problem,” Wiesel told CNN. “So, I thought I was in pretty good shape.” However, the surgeon said he was humbled after discovering that his physique did not match the high athleticism required by the mountain.

“I would take five steps and take 30 seconds to a minute to catch my breath,” Wiesel recalls struggling with a lack of available oxygen during his ascent to the summit of Everest.

Climbers aiming for the summit usually undertake an acclimatization course to adjust their lungs to poor oxygen levels once they reach the mountain. This process involves mountaineers ascending to one of four designated camps on Mount Everest and spending one to four days there before returning down.

This routine is repeated at least twice to allow the body to adapt to low oxygen levels. Increases the climber's chances of survival and summit.

“If you took someone and put them at the top camp on Mount Everest, not even on (the summit), they would probably go into a coma within 10 to 15 minutes,” Wiesel said.

“And they will die within an hour because their bodies are not adjusted to this drop in oxygen levels.”

While Weasel has successfully climbed dozens of mountains, including Mount Kilimanjaro (19,341 feet), Chimborazo (20,549 feet), Cotopaxi (19,347 feet), and most recently Aconcagua (22,837 feet) in January, he said none of them compare With the high top. – The height of Mount Everest.

He continued: “Because no matter how well you train, once you reach the limits of what the human body can endure, it becomes very difficult.”

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At its highest altitudes, Everest is almost unable to sustain human life and most mountaineers use supplemental oxygen above 23,000 feet. Lack of oxygen is one of the biggest threats faced by climbers attempting to scale the summit, with oxygen levels dropping below 40% when they reach the 'death zone' on Mount Everest.

Purnima Shrestha/AFP/Getty Images

Mountaineers' tents are photographed at Everest Base Camp in the Mount Everest region of Solukhumbu District on April 18, 2024.

The first target for mountaineers is Mount Everest Base Camp at approximately 17,000 feet, which takes the climber about two weeks. They then climb to the three remaining camps along the mountain.

Camp Four, the last before the summit, is located along the edge of the Death Zone at 26,000 feet, exposing climbers to an extremely thin layer of air, subzero temperatures, and strong winds strong enough to blow a person off the mountain.

“It's hard to survive there,” Wiesel told CNN. He remembers passing the bodies of climbers who died on the mountain – an uncommon occurrence. The bodies of fallen mountaineers are well preserved, showing little decomposition due to the extreme cold temperatures.

“I'm probably more familiar with death and loss of life than most people,” the surgeon said. “For me, it was just a reminder of the seriousness of the situation and the fragility of life…but more than that, it was a motivation to appreciate the opportunity.”

High-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) is one of the most common ailments that climbers face while trying to reach the summit. “Your brain is starved for oxygen,” the weasel said.

HACE causes the brain to swell as it tries to regain stable oxygen levels, causing drowsiness and difficulty speaking and thinking. This confusion is often accompanied by blurred vision and sporadic bouts of delusion.

“I had auditory hallucinations where I was hearing voices [of friends] Weasel remembers that. Which I thought was coming from behind me. “And I had visual hallucinations,” he added. “I could see the faces of my children and my wife emerging from the rocks.”

Weasel remembers his ways with his girlfriend, Orienne Aimard, who was trapped on the mountain due to her injury. “I remember staring at her for five minutes and just saying, 'I'm so sorry,'” Weasel said.

“I've spent over a decade of my life training to help people as a surgeon, and being in a situation where there's someone who needs your help and you're unable to provide any help… that feeling of helplessness was hard to deal with,” Weasel told CNN.

Aimard survived. She was rescued with multiple fractures to her feet, as well as severe frostbite to her hands. Despite all her injuries, Aimard is one of the lucky ones.

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Pemba Dorje Sherpa/AFP/Getty Images

Mountaineers climb as they ascend to the summit of Mount Everest on May 7, 2021.

Mount Everest has long been a graveyard for climbers who succumbed to harsh conditions or accidents on its slopes.

When a loved one or fellow climber is seriously injured or dies on the mountain, it's routine to leave them behind if you can't save them, according to Alan Arnett, a mountaineer's coach who summited Everest in 2014.

He said: “What most teams do out of respect for that climber is that they move the body out of sight.” That's only if they can.

“Sometimes it's not practical because of bad weather, or because their bodies will freeze in the mountain,” Arnett told CNN. “So, it's very difficult to move them.”

Seeing a dead body on Mount Everest is like seeing a horrific car crash, according to a mountain coach. “Don’t turn around and go home,” Arnette said. “You respectfully slow down…or pray for that person, and then you keep going.”

It's been 10 years since then The deadliest accident On the world's highest mountain, after an avalanche killed 12 Sherpa guides. The year 2023 was recorded as the deadliest year on Mount Everest, with 18 people dying on the mountain, including five people who are still unaccounted for.

the The recovery operation is extensiveSometimes, impossible. Rescue operations and helicopter search missions are extremely challenging due to the high altitudes and often treacherous conditions, resulting in some rescuers dying trying to save others.

Pemba Dorje Sherpa/AFP/Getty Images

Mountaineers as they ascend to the summit of Mount Everest on May 12, 2021.

The 3,000-foot climb from Camp IV to the summit can take 14 to 18 hours. Therefore, mountaineers usually leave the camp at night.

“That whole night was cold,” Weasel recalls. “It's dark, it's stormy.” But he said it proved worth it in the morning.

“Watching the sunrise from 29,000 feet and dropping Mount Everest's shadow pyramid onto the valley below you…” Wiesel told CNN. He continued: “This was probably one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life.”

“It's weird standing there and knowing that everything else on the planet is below where you're standing.”

Al-Jarrah said that the size of the mountain is modest. “I never felt so small,” he recalls. “This combination of humility and connection to something bigger than yourself is the place from which we should approach our existence on this planet.”

Like a weasel, Arnette climbed to the top at sunrise, feeling the same “small” feeling. At the top there were “more mountains than you could count,” Arnett recalled. “It was a feeling of immense gratitude and at the same time I knew I had to go back.”

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After about 20 minutes to an hour, climbers usually begin their descent to the base of the mountain.

Jacob Wiesel

Jacob Wiesel

Before leaving for Nepal, the weasel was given an eagle feather as a beacon of his Native American heritage.

Wiesel told CNN that he was determined to plant the feather on the summit of Mount Everest “as a symbol of our people and what we have endured over the past hundreds of years.” “Showing that our spirits are not broken, but we are able to rise above the things that have happened to us,” he added.

“I remember planting an eagle feather on top of the world and feeling the true privilege I felt representing our people.” That's why he decided to climb Everest, to set an example that anything is possible for young indigenous children and his tribe.

“Knowing what it's like out there, for me personally, the only real justification for going and putting your life and other people's lives at risk is if you're climbing for a reason that's much bigger than yourself,” Wiesel said.

Arnett attempted to climb Mount Everest three times before successfully reaching the summit.

“My first three tries, I wasn’t clear on why,” Arnett said. When his mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, he looked at his purpose of climbing differently.

“I wanted to do it to raise money for Alzheimer's and honor my mother,” Arnett said.

There are approximately 300 people who have received permission from the Nepalese government to climb the mountain this year, according to Arnett. And he said The number has decreased compared to previous years.

“I think one of the reasons is because we had 18 deaths last year, and people realize that Mount Everest is a dangerous mountain.”

However, he doesn't think that should deter climbers from trying to reach the summit. “I'm a firm believer that when you climb these mountains you come home a better version of yourself,” Arnett told CNN.

“Everest has become so commercialized, you're stepping over bodies” and “it's full of rubbish,” the mountain instructor said. “The truth is, it's a very small degree of all of that, but there's a lot of happiness that people get from doing it,” he continued.

“That's why we climb mountains.”

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