Retrieving Dead Bodies During Expedition in Nepal
It is nearly impossible to bring Death and Missing Body down from a mountain like Everest, but it is still done. This is mainly why the peaks like Everest and Kanchenjunga are called the world's highest graveyards for a reason.
Whenever climbers fall or injure themselves, they will stop their climb and stay where they are as it is too risky to climb the peak forward. The individuals who lost their lives upon climbing the mountain remain remarkably intact- well preserved by the icy grip of endless freezing. Nevertheless, this, too, makes retrieving the body incredibly burdensome and worth the trouble.
Since helicopters cannot reach the high mountains to retrieve the body, the death body rescue missions are generally carried out by a group of Sherpas. Sherpas are native people from Nepal who are famous for their mountaineering skills.
They know the peaks like Everest like the back of their hand and are familiar with every terrain and route on the peaks. Moreover, sherpas are skilled mountaineers who risk their lives during the expedition to return the dead bodies from most expeditions.
Generally, a rescue team of ten sherpas heads towards the death zone of the peaks like Everest, where most bodies are found. They locate the dead bodies buried under the snow or lying around and then transport the body with the help of the sled to a lower altitude where the helicopter can reach and pick them up. With helicopters and sherpas rescuing, there still exists the risk of avalanches.
Most dead and missing bodies are found deep inside the crevasses, most covered with ice and snow. The dead bodies to retrieve are around the death zone over 8000 m, where oxygen is comparatively low. Besides the death zone, the rescue team has also retrieved the bodies from nearby South Col and the descending route from the summit.
Once the team of sherpas reaches the bodies, they make them free from the surrounding ice, wrap them up, and tie them with ropes. Afterward, they bring the dead bodies down to Camp 2 at 6400m, the highest point a helicopter can reach.
There are many risks while bringing down back the bois from the peak like the Sherpa are still asked to bring down the dead bodies by their families. This being said, out of 6 mountaineers who died while summiting Everest in 2017, only one body was not retrieved back by the sherpas.
Retrieving the bodies from that high-altitude mountain is more dangerous than climbing the peak as you are not just climbing it here. You are climbing the peak and transporting the body at the same time. A rescuer faces the same challenges as climbers, like hypothermia, altitude sickness, frostbite, edema, accidents, and avalanches. And many believe all the challenges are worth it as its b better to bring down the bodies back than to levlen on the peak as bringing down the body leaks the mountain cleaner.
What happens to dead bodies on Expedition?
The mountaineering world knows well the dangers of climbing peaks like Mount Everest and other peaks rising above 7000 m and 8000m. Everest Peak literally has a zone named Death Zone. As its name suggests, the death zone claims most of the lives during an expedition, and its victims gain international renown, identified under various nicknames like Green Boots and Sleeping Beauty. But the deaths do not seem to discourage everyone who is determined to climb the peaks as tall as Everest and Kanchenjunga. In fact, Tourism and mass group climbing expeditions are only increasing every year, gaining much popularity, which is increasing the number of deaths yearly. But what really happened to the dead body left above the peaks?
Majestic peaks like Everest stand as the ultimate trial of fortitude and expertise for climbers, symbolizing the pinnacle of their aspirations and lifelong dreams. Therefore, Mount Everest remains an irresistible allure for adventurers, despite the unfortunate reality of accumulating casualties.
Throughout recent history, the Everest single has tragically claimed the lives of more than 300 climbers, and approximately two-thirds of this harsh calculation still rests upon its formidable slopes. The current estimation suggests that roughly 200 remains remain buried within Everest's icy grasp.
In accordance with tradition, the deceased are left undisturbed in their final resting place, transforming into haunting landmarks and cautionary reminders for those who dare to ascend. Almost every climber must traverse past one of the mountain's most renowned corpses, "Green Boots," on their journey toward the summit.
Regrettably, the difficult and excessive nature of retrieving bodies from the mountain makes such efforts unfeasible. Hence, when an individual meets an untimely death on Everest, their human form is left behind, frozen in endless peace, preserving their memory forever.
Most Dead Bodies Are Left Behind
It may surprise many unfamiliar with the mountain's death toll, but the truth is that most deceased bodies on the mountain are not retrieved and remain there permanently. However, there are logical reasons behind the decision to leave the bodies behind and not to bring them down back.
The risks associated with the highest peaks like Everest make it exceedingly challenging, and sometimes even impossible, to retrieve a body. Likewise, helicopters cannot retrieve bodies located above Camp 2 at 21,000 feet. So people must climb the mountain and carry it down for recovery, which requires a team of rescuers or Sherpas who can scoop frozen bodies and bear the additional weight of a frozen corpse as they climb down the mountain.
Due to the high cost and extreme risks faced by the retrieval team, very few bodies are ever brought down from Everest. Furthermore, many mountaineers choose to have their remains remain on the mountain as a reflection of the tradition observed for sailors lost at sea.
In a strange yet sensible tradition, the deceased bodies of mountain climbers on Mount Everest have transformed into trail markers for those aspiring to reach the summit. These lifeless forms represent the fulfillment of past mountaineers' efforts and serve as trustworthy indicators for present-day climbers in their quest for the unreachable peak. While numerous bodies remain unidentified, specific individuals such as Green Boots and Sleeping Beauty have attained fame as Everest's renowned permanent inhabitants.
The Cost of Retrieving Bodies During Expedition
Climbing Mount Everest is a costly endeavor itself. Still, the dead body retrieval mission from such a high elevated height seems more expensive, averaging over $100,000. According to estimates from Nepalese officials, there are approximately 200 bodies scattered across the single peak of Everest. Most of these bodies are hidden from view, either intentionally moved or disposed of by families who didn't want their loved ones to become landmarks for others or at the direction of Nepali officials concerned about the negative impact of dead bodies on the country's tourism industry.
Nevertheless, the families and friends of those who perished on Everest and those on other high peaks worldwide increasingly desire and expect to bring the bodies back home. However, recovering these bodies can be even more difficult and costly than the expeditions that claimed the climbers' lives.
Many people question why so few efforts were made to retrieve the bodies scattered across the mountain. The truth is harsh: it is already highly challenging for climbers to return alive, let alone recover most of the deceased. Nonetheless, public outcry and incentives have compelled expedition leaders to remove some of the body's resting on Everest's slopes in recent years.
Retrieving a body requires a team of rescuers or Sherpas who can excavate frozen corpses and carry the additional weight down the treacherous mountain. The expenses for such an operation can exceed $100,000. Due to the high costs and extreme risks involved for the retrieval team, only a few bodies have ever been successfully brought down from Everest and other peaks above 7000 and 8000.
The remaining bodies from the mountain might or not be rescued in the future as the cost to recover a single body can be around $100,000 or more.
Why Can't Helicopters Bring Dead Bodies Down?
You may wonder why a helicopter can't go to the mountains and return the dead body to its Everest Base Camp. In fact, helicopters can come in handy and be very helpful for rescuers and make the whole rescue operation easier. But normally, such a body retrieval option by helicopters simply does not exist at all. So can a helicopter fly above the mountains like Everest? You probably did not expect this answer, but helicopters can fly above the peaks like Everest. With this in mind, a helicopter-based summit to Everest was successful in 2005. But this helicopter Everest summit victory was just achieved walking on a thread. Such a dangerous summit would barely be completed in the future, and a regular helicopter would be doubtful to survive such a flight. So why can't helicopters retrieve the dead bodies under normal conditions?
Air pressure/density and oxygen levels
The higher the altitude, the lesser the air pressure and density. Like Everest, most of the top of the peaks have comparatively lower air pressure than the sea level, and the low air preserves are unsuitable for the helicopter to fly.
The peaks above 8000 m base camp experience a significant decline in oxygen levels, reaching a 50% reduction. As you ascend higher, the oxygen levels continue to decrease. It is challenging to acclimate to such a low-oxygen environment, even with a gradual adjustment. However, the sudden change in oxygen levels during a flight can pose a life-threatening risk. At an altitude of 8,000 meters, oxygen levels descend to as low as 33%.
The technological Difficulty
The only helicopter that touched down atop Mount Everest still requires extensive modifications. Several components of the helicopter were removed to reduce its weight, enabling it to overcome the challenges posed by air pressure.
The helicopter boasted highly confident and skilled pilots, minimizing the margin for error and ensuring a secure landing. However, helicopters and pilots of such caliber cannot be expected to be always readily available. It is unrealistic to anticipate such extravagant helicopter rescue journeys regularly today.
Difficulties of Bringing Dead and Missing Bodies Back
Climbing a peak like Everest may be challenging, but rescuing dead bodies from the mountains is equally difficult and dangerous. Most peaks above 7000 m and 8000 meters are characterized by their high altitude, extreme climate conditions, temperature factors, avalanches, and storms. Let's discuss the factors that make the rescue mission more difficult.
High Altitude peak with Thin Air
Famous peaks like Everest do not need any backup story as these peaks claim the lives of many climbers, are best known for their elevation, and come under the list of famous 8000ers of the world. During the climbing expedition, the surrounding air becomes much thinner, and the oxygen is depleted as you ascend further. Altitude sickness, fatigue, and reduced physical performance are among the factors that can hinder the Everest rescue mission. Therefore, these issues present additional challenges in carrying out the operation.
High mountain weather conditions are highly unpredictable and can change rapidly, even during the peak seasons of Autumn and Spring. Therefore it is not common to encounter storms, blizzards, and avalanches, which pose significant natural hazards to climbers.
One of the most challenging weather-related factors is the high wind speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour. These strong winds can make climbing difficult and dangerous, particularly at higher altitudes. In addition to the wind, the temperature on mountains generally varies between 10 to -25 degrees Celsius, and when combined with the chilling effect of the wind, it can feel even colder. These harsh weather conditions significantly threaten rescuers and can greatly impact their chances of retrieving dead bodies.
In addition, these challenging weather conditions also complicate the task of evacuation on Mount Everest. When climbers require rescue or assistance due to injuries, illnesses, or other emergencies, it becomes a life-threatening endeavor for rescuers and climbers needing help. The extreme weather conditions, including high winds and low temperatures, make it extremely challenging to perform rescue operations safely and efficiently.
Climbing high-elevated mountains demands a high level of technical climbing proficiency. When retrieving deceased climbers from the mountain, rescuers must navigate treacherous ridges. Certain bodies are situated in remote locations following a fall, necessitating improved prioritization of technical skills for their successful evacuation. Proficiency in technical climbing techniques such as rope fixing, utilization of crampons and ice axes, and proper handling of climbing boots holds utmost significance.
The path leading to the summit of the mountains during the Expedition is characterized by its steep and rocky nature, comprising various hazardous sections that demand technical climbing expertise. These sections pose challenges, particularly for climbers lacking experience, while even seasoned climbers may encounter significant risks. Furthermore, the route is often crowded with fellow climbers, boosting the difficulty of body retrieval operations and heightening the probability of accidents during the mission.
The limited time frame is another factor that makes the body rescuing operations more difficult. This is because of the dynamic things of the peaks.
Due to the unpredictable nature of weather patterns, which undergo frequent fluctuations, the operational environment can be greatly affected. Rescue missions become increasingly demanding during off-seasons due to extreme weather conditions and freezing temperatures. Hence, the timely execution of missions may be delayed, resulting in potential delays, postponements, or even cancellations.
Retrieving deceased bodies from Mount Everest demands a substantial amount of financial resources. Whether the recovery efforts are spearheaded by experienced Sherpas or conducted through helicopter operations, a significant budget allocation is necessary. Various factors, including organising rescue teams, managing logistics, obtaining permits, acquiring equipment, and arranging transportation, contribute to the overall cost. Furthermore, securing funding and allocating resources for recovery operations can pose additional challenges for the rescue team in carrying out its mission.
Risks for Recovery Teams
The recovery team faces significant risks due to the factors mentioned earlier. Although the hazards of Mount Everest affect everyone equally, the rescue teams encounter additional challenges due to the harsh conditions. Therefore, ensuring the safety of the recovery team is of utmost importance to facilitate the retrieval of the deceased bodies from Everest.
Safety Measures and Regulations Before Body Retrieving
To prioritize safety, the recovery team must consider the following preparations. Before embarking on their rescue mission on the mountains, they should thoroughly plan and strategize it beforehand.
Competent and Trained Teams
Recovering dead bodies from the mountains poses even greater challenges than climbing Everest itself. The recovery team must consist of skilled and experienced individuals who are well-skilled in the required tasks. All the rescuers in a team should have extensive backgrounds in mountaineering and recovery techniques. Additionally, they must possess expertise in climbing methods, rope handling, crevasse rescue, and high-altitude medicine. In addition, they should have great endurance to carry a body down the peak.
Proper acclimatization is crucial before starting the recovery mission on Everest. The recovery teams should possess fundamental acclimatization skills, sticking to a gradual ascent and descent approach. Similarly, they should be equipped with the knowledge to mitigate the risks of altitude sickness at high elevations. Like climbers, recovery crews should prioritize their physical well-being through hydration, much rest and sleep, and consumption of nutritious food.
Thorough Risk Assessment
Performing a thorough risk examination within the recovery team is crucial before starting a rescue mission on the mountains. This examination should enclose weather and climate conditions, elevation, avalanche risks, and rockfall hazards. Also, it's wise to have a contingency plan (Plan B), enabling the rescuers to adapt if the initial plan proves ineffective while retrieving the body.
Proper Equipment and Gear
Given the risks posed by mountains, unpredictable weather, climate, altitude, and dangerous terrain, rescuers should carefully plan their equipment and gear list. Likewise, the recovery crews must utilize high-quality clothing and accessories, including ice axes, crampons, climbing ropes, hiking poles, harnesses, helmets, and avalanche safety equipment. Before embarking on the rescue mission, the rescuers should thoroughly inspect the quality and condition of these items.
Rescuers must stay updated with real-time weather and climate information. This is essential due to mountains constantly changing and dynamic weather patterns. By obtaining accurate weather forecasts, the risk of accidents during the rescue mission can be minimized. Furthermore, it allows the rescuers to strategize and execute their tasks effectively.