Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Melting ice due to climate change unmasks Everest’s hidden tragedies


The sacred slopes of Mount Everest are witnessing the effects of climate change as the snow and ice cover thins, exposing the bodies of hundreds of mountaineers who lost their lives pursuing their dream of reaching the world’s highest peak. This year, a team of climbers and military personnel embarked on a mission not to summit the 8,849-metre (29,032-foot) mountain, but to retrieve some of the corpses, risking their own lives in the process.
As part of Nepal’s mountain clean-up campaign on Everest, Lhotse, and Nuptse, the team successfully recovered five frozen bodies, including one that was reduced to skeletal remains.The task was arduous, dangerous, and emotionally challenging.
Rescuers spent hours chipping away at the ice with axes and sometimes using boiling water to release the bodies from the frozen grip. Major Aditya Karki, who led the team, said, “Because of the effects of global warming, (the bodies and trash) are becoming more visible as the snow cover thins.”
Over 300 people have died on Everest since expeditions began in the 1920s, with eight fatalities in this season alone. Many bodies remain on the mountain, some hidden by snow or lost in deep crevasses, while others have become landmarks along the route to the summit, earning nicknames such as “Green Boots” and “Sleeping Beauty”.
The presence of these bodies can have a psychological impact on climbers, as they believe they are entering a sacred space.
Retrieving bodies from the “death zone,” where thin air and low oxygen levels increase the risk of altitude sickness, is a controversial and challenging task. It requires significant financial resources, with each body requiring up to eight rescuers and weighing over 100 kilograms (220 pounds).
However, Major Karki emphasised the necessity of the rescue effort, saying, “We have to bring them back as much as possible. If we keep leaving them behind, our mountains will turn into a graveyard.”
The retrieved bodies, once brought down from the mountain, are transported to Kathmandu. Two of the bodies have been preliminarily identified, and authorities are awaiting detailed tests for final confirmation. Those that remain unidentified will likely be cremated.
Despite the recovery efforts, the mountain still holds its secrets. The body of British climber George Mallory, who went missing during a 1924 summit attempt, was only discovered in 1999. His climbing partner, Andrew Irvine, and their camera, which could provide evidence of a successful summit and rewrite mountaineering history, have never been found.
In addition to the body retrieval mission, the clean-up campaign, with a budget of over $600,000, employed 171 Nepali guides and porters to remove 11 tonnes of rubbish from the mountain.
The well-trodden route to the summit is littered with fluorescent tents, discarded climbing equipment, empty gas canisters, and even human excreta. While current expeditions are under pressure to remove their waste, historic rubbish remains a challenge.
As Tshiring Jangbu Sherpa, who led the body retrieval expedition, said, “The mountains have given us mountaineers so many opportunities. I feel that we have to give back to them, we have to remove the trash and bodies to clean the mountains.”

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