Where is Mount Everest

Mount Everest: The way to the summit leads over corpses

by Matthias Thome
More than 300 people lost their lives trying to stand on Mount Everest. That this is so has to do with the many myths surrounding the summit, but above all with its commercialization

It is the highest place on which a person on earth can stand. For a long time, Mount Everest was a legendary myth. It wasn't until the mid-1950s that the first mountaineers made it to its 8,849-meter-high summit. (Until a joint statement by the Nepalese and Chinese authorities in December 2020, 8,848 meters were the official altitude.)

After its first ascent, the mountain was gradually opened to a wider community, and in the 80s and 90s a real boom followed on Mount Everest. A tour of the roof of the earth, which falls to Tibet in the north and Nepal in the south, has become an affordable pleasure for the adventurous.

This has fatal consequences: the ascent to the highest point on earth is paved with rubbish and corpses.

Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay are the first people to reach the summit

Edmund Hillary is 33 when he stands on top of Mount Everest. He is a beekeeper by profession and a passionate mountaineer. In the spring of 1953 the hopes of the British nation rested on the broad shoulders of the 1.92 meter tall giant, who was born in Auckland, New Zealand. A real race has broken out among the world's leading countries to climb Mount Everest. Ever since people stood at the North and South Poles, the highest peak in the world has been the last big goal that adventurers can still "conquer". Fame belongs to the nation that makes it to the top of Mount Everest first.

This is another reason why the expedition leader John Hunt is not an experienced mountain climber out of passion, but a military colonel. He has mobilized enormous resources, his people even drag a grenade launcher into the Himalayan mountains - to trigger avalanches before they can pose a threat to the team.

The British team also includes Tenzing Norgay. For him, the Himalayan mountains are not just the backdrop for adventures in a distant world or the vehicle for fame and honor at home. Tenzing Norgay grew up under the umbrella of the world, he belongs to the little Sherpa people who live at the foot of Everest. He learned early on how to navigate yak herds to alpine pastures at 5000 meters above sea level.

Ever since mountaineering heroes from all over the world set it in their heads in the 1920s to be on Mount Everest as soon as possible, they have been making use of the abilities of the small folk. Tents, drinking water, groceries, carabiners, ropes, crampons - everything has to be transported upwards over snowfields and ice, the greatest load is usually carried by the Sherpa.

It was only the expeditions from the west that made the Sherpa aware that their home is on the highest mountain on earth. Chomolungma is her old name for the legendary summit of Mount Everest - this is also the name of the goddess mother of the earth, who is supposed to live on it.

Shortly before the goal, the two-person expedition runs out of oxygen

Expedition leader Hunt has declared Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay to be a rope team, the two are a well-coordinated community of convenience. On May 28, 1953, they pitch their tent on Mount Everest at an altitude of 8,500 meters. You are on your own - no one has come so close to the summit of Mount Everest who could have told about it afterwards in the valley.

But: The oxygen is scarce, a missing adapter makes one of the two oxygen bottles unusable. At night they sleep with less oxygen than planned when the wind whistles around their tent at minus 40 degrees.

Hillary's boots are frozen and they have to knead the leather over the stove for an hour, a major loss of time.

Then it starts, just under 350 meters separate the two from the highest point on earth. Instead of the planned four liters of oxygen per minute, they are only allowed to use three. Everything can still fail, first the two have to cross crusty crust, deep powder snow that is hidden under a frozen crust of snow. At nine o'clock they are on the southern summit of Mount Everest, at an altitude of 8751 meters.

Then the snow is firmer, Hillary and Tenzing can cut steps into its ceiling, and can make the last few meters of Mount Everest in an hour and a half. The two embrace, Hillary takes pictures that make the rope team world famous: A New Zealander and a Sherpa stand on the roof of the world overlooking what is probably the most famous panorama of a mountain range today.

After a quarter of an hour they start the descent and make it back to the valley safely. The news spreads like wildfire around the world, reaching Buckingham Palace just in time for Queen Elisabeth's coronation. Tenzing and Hillary - in the western world especially Hillary for a long time - become icons of mountaineering.

However, it is also their role model, striving to see the earth below, to “conquer” peaks and one's own limits, as was long common in the mountaineering vocabulary, which to this day mountaineers and those who would like to be every year , drives to death.

The path on Mount Everest, which Tenzing and Hillary have cut through almost untouched ice, is now paved with corpses.

Commercializing a Sanctuary: How Much Does It Cost to Climb Mount Everest?

The first reports of an expedition to Mount Everest date back to 1921. In the following year, an avalanche tore the first rope teams into the depths who wanted to venture to the summit - 17 people died.

In the decades that followed, expedition teams from all over the world tried to climb Mount Everest. By 1980, 99 more people had made it to the summit. Then great mountaineers like Reinhold Messner triggered a real boom in the mountains in the 1980s, telling again stories of daredevil mountaineers looking for adventures on rock and ice. On May 8, 1978, Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler were the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest without oxygen.

The Everest dream became popular, and if you only brought the necessary change and the necessary fitness, the dream could come true at some point in life - this is the thought of many high-income hobby mountaineers. The trip to the highest peak on earth can be bought from 40,000 euros.

For example, some organizations offer an “altitude training system including altitude generator and tent including acclimatization plan for active and passive pre-acclimatization 6 weeks before departure”. Although the organizers point out the risks and high demands on the mountaineers, a tour of Mount Everest can easily be booked online.

The disaster of May 11, 1996 raises concerns - and solidifies the Mount Everest myth

In 1993, for the first time, more than a hundred people dared to climb Mount Everest in one year, and the numbers rose. On May 10th and 11th, 1996, several teams were hit by a change in the weather on their ascent. The 30 fatalities on Mount Everest, but above all impressive reports from the survivors, sparked a debate: The commercially operating organizations on Mount Everest are being questioned.

But even the - well-marketed - books and films about the disaster of May 1996 do not cloud the masses' thirst for adventure as much as they further consolidate the myth of Mount Everest. In the record season of 2007, 604 people made it to the top of Mount Everest.

Most of them seem to blank out what it really means to die on Mount Everest. Many corpses are never recovered, are the frozen human tribute to the mountain - that they are right next to the main climbing routes has become obscure normality.

Some even get names: “Green Boots” was the name of a corpse that, because of its neon green boots, acted as a kind of signpost on Mount Everest - until it disappeared for unknown reasons. It is estimated that around 300 people have died trying to climb the summit to date.

The population of Nepal is in a dilemma: the mountaineers bring money, but also a lot of rubbish

For large parts of the population of Nepal, Mount Everest and the surrounding Himalayan panorama are the main source of income. However, the tourists not only bring money to Nepal, but also tons of rubbish. And especially those who climb the highest mountain in the world do not want to and cannot bring a lot of their equipment and food back down to the valley from Mount Everest.

An organization of Tibetan mountaineers is trying to contain at least the extent of the garbage on Mount Everest: in 2018 they removed almost ten tons of garbage from the mountain. Broken tents, gas cartridges, human excrement - what has become useless is left behind, every gram in the backpack turns into a kilo on Mount Everest. A problem with which the highest mountain in the world is not alone and which also affects the Alps.

In the meantime, the authorities have also reacted: The base camp on Mount Everest, where some mountaineering tourists end up who only want to get particularly close to the summit, has been relocated by a few kilometers for ecological reasons, and the number of approved summit climbs has been limited to 300. And: For a number of years now, mountaineers have had to take their rubbish with them on Mount Everest. If they arrive safely at the foot of the mountain, they have to carry at least eight kilograms of rubbish with them - otherwise they face a fine. Also new is the garbage fee of $ 1,500 per adventurer who wants to climb Mount Everest.

The motivation behind the measures - whether it is really about protecting the mountain or avoiding the frightening images of long lines in the last few meters before the summit - is Mount Everest itself and all living beings that call it home, probably don't care. As is the goddess mother Chomolungma they are probably just happy about every mountaineer who refrains from using the roof of the world as a projection surface for their own dreams and longings.