Mount Everest, at 8,848.86 metres, is the world’s highest mountain and a particularly desirable peak for mountaineers, but climbing it can be hazardous.
More than 300 people have died attempting to reach the summit. The last two years without known deaths on the mountain were 1977, when only two people reached the summit, and 2020, a year when permits were suspended by Nepal because of the Covid pandemic.
Most deaths have been attributed to avalanches, falls, serac collapse, exposure, frostbite, or health problems related to conditions on the mountain. Not all bodies have been located, so details on those deaths are not available.
The upper reaches of the mountain are in the death zone. The death zone is a mountaineering term for altitudes above a certain point – around 8,000 m (26,000 ft), or less than 356 millibars (5.16 psi) of atmospheric pressure – where the oxygen pressure level is not sufficient to sustain human life. Many deaths in high-altitude mountaineering have been caused by the effects of the death zone, either directly (loss of vital functions) or indirectly (unwise decisions made under stress or physical weakening leading to accidents). In the death zone, the human body cannot acclimatize, as it uses oxygen faster than it can be replenished. An extended stay in the zone without supplementary oxygen will result in deterioration of bodily functions, loss of consciousness, and death.
During the 1921 British Reconnaissance Expedition there were two deaths en route to the mountain, an unidentified porter as well as heart attack victim Dr. A. M. Kellas. The first recorded deaths on the mountain itself were seven porters who perished in an avalanche in the 1922 British Mount Everest Expedition. George Mallory, who was present, blamed himself for the deaths.
Babu Chiri Sherpa had climbed the mountain 10 times and spent 20 hours on the summit of Everest in 1999, then a new record. He also climbed to the summit twice in two weeks and held the record climbing time from base camp to summit of 16 hours and 56 minutes. He died in 2001 from a fall near Camp II. Experienced guide Rob Hall died on Everest shortly after becoming the first non-Sherpa to have summitted five times (1996).
One of the most infamous tragedies on the mountain was the 1996 Mount Everest disaster on May 11, 1996, during which eight people died due to a blizzard while making summit attempts. In that season, 12 people died trying to reach the summit, making it the deadliest single year in the mountain’s history to that point. Two books detailing the disaster, Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer and The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev, both written by mountaineers who were on Mount Everest at the time, give conflicting accounts of the events. Statistically, 1996 was a safe year for Everest climbers. Before 1996, one in four climbers died making the ascent, while in 1996, one in seven died.
In the 2014 and 2015 seasons, tragedies killed more than a dozen people. There were few summits from the south in 2014 and none in 2015. On April 18, 2014, 16 Sherpas were killed in an avalanche in the Khumbu Ice Fall. On April 25, 2015, 19 people were killed in an avalanche at base camp following a 7.8 earthquake, which killed more than 9,000 people and injured more than 23,000 in Nepal. It is the worst single-day fatality count in Everest’s history. In 2019, 11 people died on Everest during a record season with huge number of climbers. Videos shared on social media showcased climbers waiting in long queues to advance up the mountain. The climbing season was closed in March 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and potential outbreaks at base camp.
Due to the difficulties and dangers in bringing bodies down, most who die on the mountain remain where they fall. Two Nepalese climbers died on October 24, 1984 while trying to recover the body of Hannelore Schmatz. While searching for George Mallory’s body in a catchment basin near the peak in 1999, searchers came across multiple bodies in the snow, including Mallory’s.