Dead bodies litter Mount Everest because it's so dangerous and expensive to get them down — and 2023 could be the most deadly season yet

  • More than 310 people have died climbing Everest since exploration first started in the early 1900s.

  • It's dangerous to retrieve the bodies, so many litter the mountain to this day.

  • Many have blamed overcrowding for deaths in recent years, and 2023 saw a record number of climbers.

Dead bodies are a common sight on top of Mount Everest.

On average, six people die climbing the world's tallest peak each year. The year 2015 was the mountain's deadliest in recent history, when an avalanche killed 19.

Climbing season in 2023 came close to that record with at least 12 deaths and five more climbers missing and presumed dead. It was also the most crowded year on the mountain yet. Nepal issued a record 463 permits.

Including sherpas that accompany climbers, that means about 900 people tried to summit the mountain from the South side during the main 2023 climbing season, which only lasts about eight weeks, each April and May

In April, three Nepalese sherpas died while trying to set the summit rope up for other climbers. In May, an American man died on his way to the summit.

When people die on Everest, it can be difficult to remove their bodies. Final repatriation costs tens of thousands of dollars (in some cases, around $70,000) and can also come at a fatal price itself: Two Nepalese climbers died trying to recover a body from Everest in 1984.

Lhakpa Sherpa, who is the women's record-holder for most Everest summits, said she saw seven dead bodies on her way to the top of the mountain in 2018.

"Only near the top," she told Insider in 2018, remembering one man's body in particular that "looked alive, because the wind was blowing his hair."

Her memory is a grim reminder that removing dead bodies from Mount Everest is a pricey and potentially deadly chore.

Everest is crowded with tourists 
Climbers descend from the summit of Everest down the Hillary Step and across the cornice traverse to the south summit in Nepal on May 23, 2019. Twenty-nineteen was one of the deadliest years in Everest in recent memory, with 11 deaths.Climbing the Seven Summits/@TENDIGUIDE/via Reuters

These days, tourists spend anywhere from $50,000 to well over $130,000 to complete a once-in-a-lifetime Everest summit. It's difficult to know for sure exactly how many people have died trying to get up and down, and where all those bodies have ended up.

Recent fatality estimates are as high as 322 after an especially deadly 2023 season. A BBC investigation in 2015 concluded "there are certainly more than 200" corpses lying on Everest's slopes.

Some hikers are blaming the surges in deaths in recent decades, in part, on preventable overcrowding.

As May temperatures warm and winds stall, favorable springtime Everest climbing conditions sometimes only last a few days. These brief climbing windows can create conveyor-belt style lines that snake toward the top of the mountain.

A long line of mountaineers making their way up a steep snow-covered slop on Mount Everest.
Mountaineers line up as they make their way up a slope on Mount Everest on May 31, 2021.LAKPA SHERPA/AFP via Getty Images

Climbers can be so eager to reach the peak and stake their claim on an Everest summit that they develop what's called "Summit Fever," risking their lives just to make it happen.

Other Everest climbers complain about risky human traffic jams in the mountain's "death zone," the area of the hike that reaches above 8,000 meters (about 26,250 feet), where air is dangerously thin and most people use oxygen masks.

Even with masks, this zone is not a great place to hang out for too long, and it's a spot where some deliriously loopy trekkers may start removing desperately-needed clothes, and talking to imaginary companions, despite the freezing conditions.

Removing bodies is dangerous and costs thousands of dollars
Nepali climbers pose for photographs after collecting waste from Mount Everest at Namche Bazar, on May 27, 2019, before it is transported to Kathmandu to be recycled.Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images

Getting bodies out of the death zone is a hazardous chore.

"Even picking up a candy wrapper high up on the mountain is a lot of effort, because it's totally frozen and you have to dig around it," Ang Tshering Sherpa former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, told the BBC in 2015. "A dead body that normally weighs 80kg might weigh 150kg when frozen and dug out with the surrounding ice attached."

Mountaineer Alan Arnette previously told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that he signed some grim "body disposal" forms before he climbed Everest, ordering that his corpse should rest in place on the mountain in case he died during the trek.

"Typically you have your spouse sign this, so think about that conversation," he added. "You say 'leave me on the mountain,' or 'get me back to Kathmandu and cremate,' or 'try to get me back to my home country.'"

For years, Everest climbers often referenced one particular dead body they called "Green Boots" who some spotted lying in a cave roughly 1,130 feet from the peak. It was the body of Tsewang Paljor, a 28 year-old Indian climber who died on the mountain in 1996, during the same storm that inspired Jon Krakauer's bestseller, "Into Thin Air."

everest climb 2019.JPG
Pemba Dorjee Sherpa, who has climbed up Everest 20 times, at camp three on the mountain in Nepal, May 20, 2019.Reuters/Phurba Tenjing Sherpa

But in recent years, Everest's most infamous corpse has been tougher for hikers to spot, leading to widespread speculation that the body was either moved, or covered by rocks, as climber Noel Hanna told the BBC.

Nepalese Sherpas generally consider it inappropriate and disrespectful to their mountain gods to leave dead bodies littering their holy mountain. In 2019, at least four bodies were taken down from the mountain by Nepalese trash collectors.

"There's sort of this idea that there's only one mountain that really matters in the kind of Western, popular imagination," filmmaker and director Jennifer Peedom told Insider when her documentary, "Mountain" was released in 2017.

Peedom had climbed Everest herself four times as of 2018, but said the thrill of summiting Everest is largely relegated to the history books, and for "true mountaineers," it's just an exercise in crowd control these days.

"There seems to be a disaster mystique around Everest that seems to only serve to heighten the allure of the place," she said. "It is extremely overcrowded now and just getting more and more every year."

This story was originally published in May 2019. It has been updated. 

Read the original article on Business Insider