Climate change is thawing the iconic mountain's glaciers — and revealing the bodies embedded beneath its ice

By Jason Duaine Hahn
March 21, 2019 03:54 PM
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty

The bodies of climbers who died on Mount Everest long ago are now being found as the iconic mountain’s glaciers melt — and local groups have been leading excursions to recover the bodies as they emerge from the icy graves.

According to a report from the BBC, as warming temperatures caused by climate change thaw the ice on Everest, an increasing number of body parts — including hands and legs — are being found by climbing parties, particularly on the glacier known as the Khumbu Icefall, where a majority of the bodies have been found in recent years.

“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. “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.”

An official from a non-government organization added: “We have noticed that the ice level at and around the base camp has been going down, and that is why the bodies are becoming exposed.”

It’s believed that more than 200 people have died on the mountain since its first recorded deaths in 1922, CNN reported. A series of avalanches in 2014 and 2015 caused the most deaths on the peak in recorded history.

It’s estimated that more than 4,800 people in total have climbed Everest, the tallest mountain in the world with an elevation of 29,029 feet.

“We are really concerned about this because it’s getting worse,” Nepal National Mountain Guides Association official Sobit Kunwar told CNN of the melting ice that is exposing the bodies. “We are trying to spread information about it so that there can be a coordinated way to deal with it.”

Mount Everest
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“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,” a government officer told the BBC.

Expedition operators routinely lead campaigns to retrieve the bodies, which can cost up to $80,000 per trip, BBC reported. Sometimes, to their disappointment, they must leave a body where it was found.

“Most of the dead bodies we bring to the towns, but those we can’t bring down we respect by saying prayers for them and covering them with rock or snow,” Tenzeeng Sherpa, treasurer of the Nepal National Mountain Guides Association, told CNN.

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Ang Tshering Sherpa recalled one difficult excursion in particular where his party carried a body weighing 330 pounds from a location near Everest’s peak. While it was difficult, he felt a duty to take the body off the mountain.

“But we, the operators, feel it is our duty,” he told CNN. “So whenever we find them, we bring the bodies down.”

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