As of June 2017, 288 people have died attempting to scale the highest mountain in the world. And in a lot of cases, the bodies of these climbers who perished in their attempt remain frozen in the spot where they died. Their bodies have become an eerie reminder to other would-be adventurers of the risk that they are taking with their own lives when taking on this enormous challenge.
When the British mountaineer George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, he answered, “because it’s there.” For Mallory, Everest represented the greatest challenge for a mountaineer in the world. In 1924, Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew Irvine set out to become the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Mystery still shrouds their expedition, as both Mallory and Irvine perished on their climb. For seventy-five years Mallory’s body lay on Mount Everest until in 1999, a team of climbers decided to set out to see if they could establish what had happened to them on that fateful day.
When they found Mallory’s body, the evidence suggested that he had fallen to his death. They discovered that Mallory had a rope injury around his waist and it is believed that both he and Irvine were roped together when they fell. However, the question remains as to whether they fell on their ascent to or their descent from the summit. Those who believe that Mallory and Irvine reached the top argue that when they were last spotted by a fellow member of their expedition team, Noel Odell, they were just a few hundred vertical feet short of the summit and “going strong for the top.”
Others point to a pair of snow goggles found in Mallory’s pocket which suggested that he had probably taken them off when it got dark during their descent. Also, Mallory had promised his wife that he would leave a photo of her on the summit of Mount Everest when he reached it, but when his wallet was searched and despite all of the other documents contained in it being perfectly preserved, no photo was found. Unfortunately, neither was the Kodak camera which the team of climbers had hoped would provide more conclusive proof as to whether Mallory and Irvine had successfully scaled Everest. Irvine’s body has never been found. And thus, the honour of being the first expedition to reach the summit went to Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and New Zealander Edmund Hillary in 1953.
Mallory and Irvine’s deaths highlight the levels of risk involved in scaling Everest. Mountaineers taking on this great challenge face many dangers. The top causes of death include avalanche, which has been responsible for 77 deaths, fall – 67 deaths, altitude sickness – 32 deaths, and exposure – 26 deaths. And the risks to climbers aren’t confined solely to their journey to the summit, of the 288 people who have died climbing Mount Everest, 71 have died on their descent from the summit.