Stories Behind History’s Most Haunting Mount Everest Deaths And The Bodies Left Behind
Published in Mar 2021 / Updated in Apr 2021
9 most disturbing stories of bodies left on Mount Everest.
Mount Everest is not only a testament to the majesty of nature’s beauty but also an alluring siren song calling to the heart of every mountaineer.
Despite the risks, thousands upon thousands swarm to the mountain every year to conquer the tallest point on Earth. However, many of them never leave to tell the tale.
While it’s hard to say for certain how many people have died climbing Mount Everest, we’re left with devastating stories of actual bodies on the mountain that serves as guideposts for subsequent climbers.
Most Mount Everest deaths occur due to falls, avalanches and exposure to the harsh climate.
The area known as the ‘Death Zone’ holds the highest body count, and it comes with its own unique set of problems.
The zone is usually 26,000 feet. When the human body enters this area, it slowly starts to expire.
Then, it becomes a race against time for climbers to make it to the peak and back before their body fails them.
Since the oxygen level at the Death Zone is only a third of what it is on the foot of the mountain, climbers often become sluggish, fatigued, and disoriented. It also causes extreme distress on organs. So they need to use supplemental oxygen.
The atmospheric pressure inside this region also makes luggage weight feel ten times heavier.
Due to this, climbers only have 48 hours to make it out of the Death Zone. Otherwise, they’ll never see the light of day again.
If someone dies on Mount Everest, it’s almost impossible to retrieve their body, especially in the Death Zone.
So, most fallen climbers remain exactly where they died.
The standard protocol is to simply let the bodies, frozen in their final moments, become a permanent addition to the rocky terrain.
And in the spring, the snow starts to melts, exposing cadavers covered under the ice for years.
These bodies indeed strike fear into the hearts of many aspiring climbers and serve as further reminders of the risks behind such adventure.
However, there are people who are still willing to climb, hoping they won’t end up like those whose deaths haunt Everest climbers and non-climbers alike.
Here are 9 of the most haunting Mount Everest deaths of all time.
#1 Hannelore Schmatz, the First Woman to Perish on Mount Everest
In 1979, German Schmatz became the fourth woman in history to reach Mount Everest’s summit.
At the same time, her husband, Gerhard, 50, became the oldest person to reach Everest’s peak.
The climbers would have been remarkable accomplishments were it not for the tragedy that befell the couple afterward.
After successfully summitting Everest, Hannelore and her teammate, Ray Genet, started their journey back.
However, the two became tired and decided to spend the night inside the Death Zone, despite their Sherpa’s pleading to continue to Camp IV.
They set up a temporary camp which didn’t have any cover — just sleeping bags.
Throughout the night, there was a severe snowstorm that left Ray to die due to hypothermia.
Shortly afterward, Hannelore succumbed to exhaustion a mere 330 feet from the camp. The last words she said were ‘water… water.’
Then, in 1984, attempts to retrieve her body resulted in the death of two men due to extreme winds.
Hannelore’s frozen body served as a guidepost for other climbers for years. And as time passed, she became known as ‘The German Woman.’
Eventually, the high winds swept her remains down the Kangshung Face.
#2 Why ‘Green Boots’ Remains One of History’s Most Famous Mount Everest Deaths
Climbers following the North Col route end up passing Mount Everest’s most infamous landmark, ‘Green Boots.’
While the name sounds like a unique hidden crevice or protrusion on Everest’s face, Green Boots is actually the frozen body of a fallen climber.
The climber earned his nickname because of the neon-colored hiking boots that he was wearing during his death.
While Green Boots’ identity has always been a mystery, he’s believed to be Indian climber Tsewang Paljor.
Long before his trip, Paljor dropped out of school after the 10th grade to work for the Indo-Tibetan Border Patrol (ITBP).
By 1996, at 28, he was ready to accompany his team of ITBP colleagues on the Everest quest.
The team became the first Indian climbers to reach the North Summit.
However, on their way back, fate had something else in store for them. A lethal storm overtook them, and they were simply no match for it.
Soon, Paljor and seven of his companions were dead, and it became known as the 1996 Everest Disaster.
This was the deadliest day in the mountain’s history, a title it held until 2014.
The expedition’s sole survivor, Harbhajan Singh, recalled the tragedy.
With harsh weather, Singh urged his team to turn back.
He recalled telling Paljor:
“Don’t be overconfident. Listen to me. Please come down. The sun is going to set.”
But the team was determined to carry on, spurred by the so-called ‘summit fever’ and desperate to make history.
And while the men eventually did end up reaching the summit, they encountered a terrible storm, leading to their death.
As of 2014, a snowstorm finally dropped Green Boots to a lower location over the side of the mountain. He joined the remains of other fallen climbers who had been cleared off of the main route.
#3 The Tragic Story of David Sharp and of Fellow Climbers Who Passed Him By
With an average of one out of ten climbers perishing atop Everest, frozen cadavers have become almost run-of-the-mill.
However, the passing of David Sharp nearly tore the entire mountain climbing community apart.
David made his third climb to the top of Everest without the aid of oxygen, radios, Sherpas or teammates.
He had aborted his first two attempts due to perilous conditions, including frostbite that took four of his fingers.
But on his third attempt, David successfully summitted Everest. During his descent, he stopped to rest inside Green Boots’ cave.
Due to disorientation and exhaustion, David drew his legs to his chest, rested his head upon his knees, and never woke up.
However, he did not perish right away.
More than 40 different climbers passed him on the mountain and saw he was still alive but in distress. But no one helped him.
Outrage poured from around the world at the knowledge that other climbers left David moaning and murmuring but refused to abandon their quest to help him.
Some climbers have claimed that they did try to help him, but realizing they couldn’t save him, they left him.
The frozen corpse of David remains on Mount Everest to this day.
#4 Snowboarder Marco Siffredi and His Daring Quest
In 2001, French snowboarder Marco Siffredi became the first person to successfully snowboard down Mount Everest using the North Col route.
However, he was disappointed that he was unable to complete his actual goal of boarding down Hornbein Couloir. He considered it the true face of Mount Everest.
So, in 2002, Marco returned at a time of year when the Hornbein had amassed enough snow in an attempt to ride down Everest’s steepest slope.
He reached the Everest summit within 12 hours with the aid of his Sherpa friend, Phurba Tashi.
Being so late in the day and with clouds starting to fill in, Tashi urged Siffredi not to make the descent. But he refused to let a chance to conquer the Holy Grail of snowboarding pass by.
That was the time Marco was last seen.
Nobody knows what exactly happened to Marco. But some experts claim that he most likely collapsed due to exhaustion and was swallowed up by one of Everest’s ravines.
#5 The Inspiring Yet Tragic Story of Nobukazu Kuriki
For climbers, the death of Japanese alpinist and motivational speaker Nobukazu Kuriki in 2018 was utterly devastating.
Those who knew Kuriki’s story marveled at his determination.
Despite losing nine fingers to frostbite on previous attempts, Kuriki remained undeterred in his quest to reach Everest’s summit.
And when he tried it again in 2018, he came so close to achieving his goal.
With only 5,000 feet left to reach the top, Kuriki suddenly suffered a fever and debilitating cough.
However, his determination compelled him to not only forge ahead but also update his social media accounts to tell his fans that nothing would stop him.
However, Sherpas found his body near Camp III at an altitude of around 24,000 feet.
One Facebook post dedicated to Nobukazu Kuriki read:
“It is a huge loss to the mountaineering world.”
“I have respect for you because you continued to push forward until the very end. Thank you so much for your inspiration and courage.”
Kuriki espoused the credo, ‘to never give up,’ which became his legacy.
Just a day before his death, he wrote on Facebook:
“I feel the pain and difficulty of this mountain.”
However, he continued to climb upward. It’s sad he never made it to the summit.
#6 The 75-Year Mystery of George Mallory’s Death
When asked why determined to scale Everest, George Mallory simply answered, ‘because it’s there.’
George Mallory was one of the most infamous expert climbers of the early 20th century.
He was part of the first three British expeditions to the summit and had the morbid distinction of being the oldest known corpse on Mount Everest. He went missing for over 75 years.
As a skilled climber, George Mallory helped map out routes for the first Everest expedition in 1921.
When the storm forced his team to turn back, they tried again in 1922. This time, the expedition featured the first use of supplemental oxygen.
Though eager to complete the climb in the early 20s, Mallory feared his age would soon become an issue as he advanced into his mid-thirties.
But with the prospect of adventure, he and his climbing partner Andrew Irvine tried it again in 1924.
After departing camp at 26,800 feet, they were last seen disappearing into the mist.
For over 75 years, no one was certain if Mallory and his friend actually reached the top or not.
An investigative expedition to find the duo was launched in 1999.
The team found Mallory’s sun-bleached and mummified remains on a low face on the north side of the mountain.
Due to severe rope injuries, the theory is that he was still tethered to Irvine when one of them fell off.
But the discovery of Mallory’s body still didn’t definitively answer the question of whether they made it to the top. Or whether he was on his way up or back when he died.
#7 The Final Hours Of ‘Sleeping Beauty’
Francys Arsentiev and her husband Sergei were avid climbers.
Francys had a goal to become the first American woman to summit Everest without supplemental oxygen.
After two attempts, she finally succeeded but didn’t celebrate her achievement.
In their 1998 attempt, the couple moved slowly due to lack of supplemental oxygen and only summited very late in the day.
This forced them to spend another night in the Death Zone.
During their final evening, the couple became separated, and Sergei made his way down to Camp IV, assuming his wife had done the same.
But upon discovering her absence, he raced back with oxygen and medicine in hopes of rescuing her.
While accounts vary, the Uzbek team found Francys half-alive and unable to move on her own the following day.
They then carried her down as far as they could until their own oxygen ran out. They had to leave Francys and descend to camp.
Along the way, they meet Sergei on his way up to her. He was never seen alive again.
It was Sleeping Beauty’s haunting final hour that cemented Francys’ legend.
A day later, after the Uzbek team left Francys, climbers Ian Woodall and Cathy O’Dowd saw a body jerking in the shadows. It was Francys.
She was severely oxygen-deprived, frostbitten, and still attached to her climbing line.
She kept murmuring:
“Don’t leave me here. Don’t leave me here to die.”
The team had to abandon their quest and spent more than an hour trying to save her.
Unable to revive her, the team made the painful decision to leave her and return to camp.
For more than nine years, climbers scaled around the frozen beauty who had become a part of Everest’s landscape.
Woodall returned to the mountain in 2007 and dropped Sleeping Beauty to a lower face where she can slumber for eternity.
Woodall and his team wrapped Francys in an American flag and buried her in an undisclosed location.
#8 Rob Hall’s Death Was So Dramatic and Harrowing — It Was Turned into a Film
Like ‘Green Boots,’ Rob Hall perished in the 1996 Everest Disaster.
The New Zealander had always been passionate about mountain climbing as a recreational sport.
From his youth in the Southern Alps to his challenging climbs as a young adult, he fostered an intense enthusiasm for mountaineering.
His passion even overflowed when he met like-minded Gary Ball. The duo soon devised a shared goal to climb the ‘Seven Summits.’
Rob and Gary dared to climb the tallest mountain on every continent in succession.
The ‘Seven Summits’ included Everest in Asia, Aconcagua in South America, Denali in North America, Kilimanjaro in Africa, Elbrus in Europe, Kosciuszko in Australia, and Vinson in Antarctica.
To the amazement of their fans worldwide, the duo accomplished their quest in 1990 in record time — seven peaks in seven months.
The duo then opened an expedition guiding company, Adventure Consultants, in 1992.
However, that same year, they returned to Everest in an expedition that claimed Gary’s life.
Gary’s cause of death was HAPE or high-altitude pulmonary edema. His partner buried him in a crevasse.
Hall continued to guide expeditions up Mount Everest until that last fateful expedition in 1996.
Among his more than 300 clients is journalist Jon Krakauer, whose 1997 book Into Thin Air was adapted into the 2015 film, Everest.
#9 Shocking Death of World-Class Mountaineer Ueli Steck
Ueli Steck once said about Mount Everest:
“If you want to climb a high altitude without oxygen, you can’t go higher. That’s why it’s interesting.”
Of all Mount Everest’s deaths throughout history, few have been more surprising than the one suffered by Steck.
Before his fateful incident in 2017, Ueli Steck was considered one of ‘the greatest mountaineers of all time.’
And no one expected that his body would one day become one of Everest’s landscape.
In his expedition, Steck would traverse routes that took professionals hours in minutes.
Despite his skills, he became yet another Everest death statistic.
Venturing up the mountain alone, Steck found himself on the Nuptse Peak. He had planned to climb along the notoriously tricky West Ridge.
This move had only been completed successfully once before. Complicating his quest further, Steck decided to forge ahead without supplemental oxygen. But he never lived to tell the tale.
Vinayak Jaya Malla, a Nepalese mountain guide who discovered his body, had seen Steck on a 23,000-foot-high ridge earlier that morning.
After a noise made him turn, he looked back and noticed a distant figure disappear. Steck had fallen to his death.
Another guide found Steck later, 3,000 feet below where they had made the sighting.
A nearby rock was drenched in blood.
Meanwhile, Steck was missing a harness, helmet, gloves, and trekking poles. It’s unclear whether he lost them in the fall or merely due to his ego over-riding his common sense.
Malla, one of the guides who found Steck, said:
“If you have been to the Himalayas, you will often see Bharal, blue sheep, very high in the mountains.”
“They are very agile and fast,…But sometimes, blue sheep fall off from cliffs.”
“Perhaps we must think of [Steck] as such — as a Bharal, as one of our blue sheep of the Himalayas who one day fell for an unexpected reason but was otherwise a master.”