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What it’s Like to Die On Mount Everest

Mountaineering is the adventurous sport of ascending huge, dangerous mountains. The goal is to reach the highest point of a mountain, preferably the largest and most difficult ones to climb, and the most famous mountain of them all, Mount Everest, is the tallest in the world. But those that do get to the level that it takes to finally take on the challenge of ascending Mount Everest don’t always make it down and are left behind, frozen forever.

Mount Everest

While the exciting aspects of scaling the world’s largest mountain are often fantasized among mountaineers, the threat of death is one that is always in the back of your mind, as it’s a very real possibility. There are plenty of testaments of the adventure, adrenaline, difficulties and breathtaking moments that a mountaineer will face on his or her journey to the top, and the chances of death are sometimes acknowledged and brushed off with the confident thought of “that won’t be me.” 

But what if…it is you? What would your adventurous end look like – a thunder of an avalanche that sweeps you away, never to be seen again? Or missing a step, and falling thousands of feet to the end?

Most likely, neither of these possibilities will happen to you. The most likely cause of death is far scarier than that. 

 

A Step-by-Step Guide of Dying on Mount Everest

The main concern when climbing Mount Everest is the weather. There is a short window of opportunity – in and around May – when the weather is warm enough, high-altitude winds known as the “jet stream” have moved away from the mountains, and the over-all conditions are the best for climbing. 

One of the most well known climbing disasters was in 1996, when three climbers from a six-man team ignored the weather warning and attempted to reach the summit. They did, but the weather got so bad as they made their way back down that they apparently lost their way and were never seen again…though there have been reports by climbers that they have seen shadowy ghosts of the climbers on the mountain, but that could be just due to a lack of oxygen, which leads us to our next stop on this grim journey. 

 

You’ll Most Likely Die Due to Exhaustion

Okay, we get the weather is a big deal. Taking extra care and attention to the weather forecasts is a big part of a mountaineer’s path. But if a storm won’t get you, there’s a good chance your own exhaustion will. 

If you are attempting to climb the biggest mountain in the world, it’s only reasonable to expect you are in tip-top physical shape to be up for the challenge. But with incredibly low oxygen levels as you get higher and higher, your body literally starts to break down as with the lack of oxygen and major organs and functions will stop working…leading to a state of extreme exhaustion. Every step becomes a struggle, until you simply cannot go on, and need to rest.

You’ll also get to the point where the cold is unbearably painful. Have you ever been so cold that it literally hurts your hands or toes or nose? Just imagine your whole body experiencing that feeling as you sit on the side of the mountain, more exhausted than ever, trying to find the strength to move on. The cold will creep in, piercing the layers of protective clothing, until your skin feels more like it is on fire than actually freezing. 

When you get to the point of moving from extra painful, to pins and needles and then all the way to just feeling numb, you’ll just be so tired. At that time, you are doomed, as it is cold enough to freeze the liquid in your body, meaning that as you die or shortly afterwards your limbs will  freeze in place…and we are not done yet. 

 

The Mountain is Your Grave 

As the cold sets in, frostbite starts to impact your body Besides the pain, you’ll start to notice that your skin is changing color. Called Necrosis, this happens when your flesh dies while still attached to you when you experience hypothermia and frostbite. Your fingers, nose, ears toes, and any exposed skin will turn black, and once you are dead, they might even fall off. 

Since 1922 – a hundred years ago – 310 people have died on the way up or down Mount Everest. While somewhere between 50 and 100 bodies have been removed and brought down the mountain, the majority are left where they died, or a few are rolled off a cliff edge, considered a proper mountain burial. It’s completely common on your way up to walk right past fellow climbers who never made it down, and sometimes as used as markers and guideposts. 

Nearly all the bodies on Everest are found sitting again the mountain, curled up or lying down, as they froze while still alive. Their final moments are frozen in time, a stark reminder. 

 

Even if Someone is There, No One Will Help You

We’re not being cruel, just stating the facts. When climbers are dying or close to death, most other climbers will continue on their journey and not help you. If they are kind, they may offer you a moment of comfort or a little oxygen, but helping someone else down is a risk most are not will to take. With just enough oxygen for themselves or their group, there’s a greater risk that, if helping you, they would die themselves.

There are many stories of climbers who have been left behind to die in the cold, or passed by in their final conscious moments, or some that risked it all to try and help them, but in the end had to go on without them. Their bodies along the paths reside there, forever, sometimes even used as guides to know where you are.

 

Would you still want to take the risk, know what your fate could be? 

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