Climate Change Is Revealing Dead Bodies On Mount Everest

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Mount Everest is famously the world’s highest mountain, and to conquer it is to conquer the world. Plenty of people have managed it, and plenty of people have died trying.

Mountaineering is a risky business. Climbing to the top of a mountain peak may give you the ultimate rush, but it also puts you in the path of frostbite, hypothermia, psychosis, avalanches, falling rocks, and falling into crevices.

It’s thought around 300 people have died attempting the trip to the summit since the first recorded ascent attempt by the British Mount Everest Expedition (seven deaths) in 1922. It’s also thought around 200 of the bodies are still there on the mountain somewhere.

Now, thanks to melting ice caps on the mountain, some of those bodies are being revealed.

"Because of global warming, the ice sheet and glaciers are fast melting and the dead bodies that remained buried all these years are now becoming exposed," Ang Tshering Sherpa, former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, told BBC News.

"We have brought down dead bodies of some mountaineers who died in recent years, but the old ones that remained buried are now coming out."

Several things need to be taken into consideration when moving the bodies of dead climbers, including cost, politics – Mount Everest is in both Nepal and Tibet, a province of China that claims to be an independent state – and the wishes of the climbers and their families.

Everest, part of the Himalayan range, rises 8,848 meters (29,029 feet) above sea level, according to officially recognized records (calculated back in 1856), although debates around whether it really is the “tallest” mountain, and even whether or not it has grown or shrunk, still rage.

The first recorded summit was in 1953 by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, and since then more than 4,800 climbers have successfully scaled the mountain. But the mountain has changed in this time. In 2015, an earthquake destroyed the famous Hillary Step, a right of passage for climbers as one of the last obstacles before reaching the peak. A study that same year revealed Everest’s glaciers were losing ice at such a rate that between 70 and 99 percent of the glaciers could be gone by the end of the century.

Researchers last year were the first ever to drill into the Khumbu Glacier in Nepal and reveal the ice temperatures below the surface. Shockingly, they found the minimum ice temperature was only -3.3°C (26°F), the coldest ice being a full 2°C (3.6°F) warmer than the mean annual air temperature. 

In 2017, the frozen limbs of dead climbers started appearing above the ground, and since then more bodies have been found as the ice continues to thaw. More are expected as we enter the spring climbing season. 

A government liaison officer who works on Everest told the BBC: "I myself have retrieved around 10 dead bodies in recent years from different locations on Everest and clearly more and more of them are emerging now."

It can cost up to $70,000 to bring a body down the mountain, and many climbers stipulate if they die they would prefer to be left there. It may sound grim, but bodies can become landmarks for other climbers, helping them orient themselves, or help rescue efforts locate them, allowing people to remain part of the climbing community, even when deceased. It has been deemed respectful to leave them where they are, but with thawing ice potentially throwing up 200 bodies, Everest's governing bodies may not have a choice.

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