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Should The Bodies Of Everest Victims Be Retrieved?

Should The Bodies Of Everest Victims Be Retrieved?

This week alone, 4 people have died on Mt Everest. Everest stands 8,848 meters (29,029 feet) high, making it the tallest mountain in the world. And every year, both experienced mountaineers and novice climbers with deep pockets make their way up the face of the mountain, either via Tibet or China. And as this week has shown, not everyone makes it back alive.

The climb itself is not as difficult or technical as many other mountains; many parts of Everest involve nothing more than a steep walk. But the altitude means the air is thin, the ice is thick and no creature has any business being this far away from sea level.  Many climbers fall ill on the way to the summit; others are turned back by weather or other disagreeable conditions. But for those who make the top, it is agreed: It is strength of will, more so than of body, that gets you to the top of Everest. On Summit Day, the day you leave Camp 4 at 11 pm and struggle to reach the top until there is nowhere left to climb, you need to remember that getting up the mountain is only half the battle: you have to get back down, too.

And that’s exactly what happened this week to Canadian Shriya Shah-Klorfine, a 33 year old Toronto woman who wanted to be the first Asian Canadian to summit Everest. Faced with a delay of several days at the last camp before the summit due to weather, over 150 climbers attempted to reach the top last Saturday, May 19, leading to severe bottlenecks and delays. Every moment of exposure at that altitude means your life is at risk, and Shah-Klorfine was struggling.  The guides she mortgaged her house to pay to keep her alive on Everest told her that she should turn around, that she was in danger, that she wasn’t going to make it. She didn’t listen. And while Shah-Klorfine did make it to the summit, she ran out of crucial bottled oxygen on the way down, lost her strength and couldn’t carry on. She died where she fell, 8000 meters above sea level. And now, the guiding company she paid to get her safely up the mountain is launching an attempt to bring her body down off the peak.

Hundreds of bodies remain where they fell on Everest, including the bodies of Scott Fischer and Rob Hall, two mountaineering guides who died during the disastrous 1996 climbing season which claimed a total of 15 climbers’ lives. Retrieving any dead climber’s body is a rare and extremely dangerous endeavour, and one that is debatable in its logic.

But Everest is not only the highest graveyard in the world, it’s also the highest garbage dump. The paths to the summit are replete with discarded oxygen cylinders, human feces, trash from the thousands of climbers who have made the attempt to summit Everest over the  ears. Perhaps it is the responsible thing to do for guiding companies to be responsible for removing everything they leave behind – including people. Her family is thought to be paying for the retrieval, and the guide company’s insurance policy will pay for a helicopter to move the body to Kathmandu.

But now, the family of Shah-Klorfine is requesting assistance from the Canadian Government in repatriating her body, should the guides be successful in retrieving it from the top of Everest. “We want somebody to help us in the foreign affairs department to bring the body from Kathmandu to Toronto,” said Shah’s grandfather, Bikram Lamba.

The request is likely to fall on deaf ears. The Harper Government is loath to help out any of its citizens in trouble abroad; it’s doubtful they’ll pay to bring back a dead one.

But still, the larger question remains: is climbing Everest really worth the risk?


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4:14PM PST on Nov 25, 2013

pure hubris

11:13PM PDT on Jun 4, 2012

Frankly, was surprised to see that 50% of survey, favored leaving bodies. I do. There is no reason to climb except for that person's personal desire, and no other people should risk their lives to retrieve a dead body.

12:04PM PDT on May 31, 2012

Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should...................

And I also applaud Oliver's suggestion. That these climbers and their sherpas have trashed what I would imagine was once one of the most beautiful and breathtaking places on this planet is a tragedy.

I hope all those who have died felt the risks were worth it.

9:27AM PDT on May 28, 2012

How sad!! I will never understand risking your life for something like that. Bodies should only be retrieved if safe. They need to start limiting how may can ascend at once.

4:31AM PDT on May 28, 2012

It is a tragedy and I speak as a mountaineer who would love to have the opportunity to climb Everest, but cannot because (a) I cannot afford the peak fees, (b) I have too great a sense of self-preservation and (c) it has become too commercialised in that it is being attempted by people who have more money than sense and are paying sherpas and other guides to get them up - risking their own lives - without committing to climbing it "properly".

In other words, if you pay someone to put themselves out to give you that much assistance to get to the top, you cannot really claim to have conquered the summit and are therefore just a tourist.

Sadly. it is acknowledged that it is so dangerous in the death zone that even the living are routinely not saved, never mind the dead recovered. It is just too difficult, even without adding in the point that anyone rendering assistance will almost certainly destroy their own summit chances.

As for asking the government to assist in repatriation, that is ludicrous. Mountaineering insurance policies do cover medical recoveries and repatriations, but only if they were in place first and even they would not cover recovery from such an inaccessible place as the Everest death zone.

8:47PM PDT on May 27, 2012

If she mortgaged her house, maybe she wasn't planning on coming back? Not only do people die doing stupid stuff like this, but they get frostbitten toes, etc. Is THAT worth the adrenalin rush? Try getting employed when you don't have fingers to even tie your shoes.
On the other hand, frozen bodies may be research materials for alien life forms in centuries to come, like the frozen mammoths.

3:28PM PDT on May 27, 2012

I hate the idea that Everest has become a dump and graveyard but risking more lives and more money is absurd to bring back dead bodies. Certainly no government should be expected to pay for it, even in part. Government money is for good of the living. If you find the risk worth it to climb Everest or take on any other type of life risking behavior you cannot expect anyone else to incur the financial risk for you. In fact I feel the same way about ANY extreme sports. Don't expect to be rescued on someone elses dime. Choose the behavior/risk, choose the consequences/cost.

12:21PM PDT on May 27, 2012

There are some really intelligent replies to the question. I particularly like what Oliver S. has to say. Let's get that implemented!!!

11:33AM PDT on May 27, 2012

Part of preparing to go should include the cost of bringing you back IF you want to--and the cost of recovering your trash---if the sherpas can remove trash and get paid for it--it is a risk they may choose to take. But bringing back everything you bring up seems to be a basic common courtesy---and if you need to be rescued while alive--that too should be something you pay for yourself---insurance or something.

11:20AM PDT on May 27, 2012

The first man to summit Everest, SIr Edmund Hillary, before his death had been asking for an extended moratorium on climbing the world's highest peak to let nature restore her to a more pristine state. Why is it that just because it's the world's tallest mountain do all the rules we abide by in other wild places fall by the wayside?

People that care about nature and the ecology of wild places practice a pack it in, pack it out strategy and they also bury their waste. If it's too hard for people to do this on Everest, perhaps that's a message we shouldn't be there at all.

People are always asked, why would you climb this mountain and the answer is invariably "because it's there". Maybe that's just not good enough. Does the greed and obsessiveness of humanity truly know no boundaries? Are there any wild places that we won't despoil in our tragic quest for self indulgent self-fulfillment?

Perhaps one solution is this: If you want a summit permit for Everest you have to remove twice as much trash, by weight, as you plan to carry in and remove, in the years before you are granted a permit. (and I mean, remove as in all the way back to civilization where it can be disposed of properly. And this must be done at the prospective climbers expense. It would reduce trash, reduce the incidence of unfit people that show up and think they can climb this because they've summited a few 14'ers and would hugely reduce traffic on the peak.

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