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?
Girolame on Flickr