In this photo taken May 16, 2018, mountaineers ascend on their way to the summit of Mount Everest, as they climb on the south face from Nepal. (GESMAN TAMANG/AFP/Getty Images)
Are thrill seekers who risk their lives for bragging rights suffering from restless hearts?
Death by Everest has been in the news of late. At least 10 people have already been reported dead or missing on the world’s highest peak this year. A record 381 climbing permits have been issued by the Nepalese government. That means about 600 people, including permit holders accompanied by support staff, up the mountain.
So much money and so little regard for life. It ranges between $45,000 to $130,000 for sherpa-guided treks, depending on the extent of services and supplies. Websites offering these “deals” acknowledge that the trip comes with a high risk of fatality.
The death rate for attempting to climb the 29,029-foot summit is 6.5%, which comes out to about 6 per year. To date, over 300 people have died trying to climb Everest. (See all their names, dates and cause of death here.)
Most climbers die after having reached the summit in the area above 25,000 feet, which is called the “Death Zone.” They succumb to high elevation, lack of oxygen, extreme temperatures and weather, and the risk of icefalls that are more active later in the afternoon. Their dream to reach the top kills them in the end. God and neighbor, not GoPro moments, is what we should die for. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
In the 2015 biographic movie Everest, we get to know some of the climbers for a 1996 ascent. Not everyone made it, including Rob Hall from New Zealand, who popularized commercial guided climbs. We see him say goodbye to his pregnant wife, promising to return in time for the birth of their baby girl. Instead, he died. His frozen body is on Everest still. No one retrieves the dead.
Scott Fisher, a guide for another expeditioner group, became exhausted, lay down and died. Doug Hansen, a former mailman pursuing his dream to climb, semi-consciously detached himself from the guide rope and toppled to his death a moment later.
Guide Andy Harris had reached Rob with spare oxygen, but it was frozen shut. They huddled together in the storm that hit on the way down. While Rob slept, Andy had hallucinations, stripped off his outer clothing and slid off the mountainside. Rob radioed basecamp that Doug and Andy were gone, and his hands and feet were frozen. He was patched through to his wife and told her that he was cold but comfortable and asked her to name their baby Sarah. He died soon after.
Yasuko, a woman from Japan who planted her country’s flag on the summi,t and Beck Weathers, an experienced climber, were stuck overnight in a storm. In the morning, Beck amazingly woke up, headed down, and saw Yasuko’s corpse along the way. Beck surprised everyone when he showed up at basecamp, although severely frostbitten and in desperate need of medical help. He made it back to his family, but ultimately lost both hands and nose to severe frostbite.
The Onion on Everest Climbers
The Onion, a satirical website, captured the meaninglessness of these deaths:
GENEVA—Saying they had no real problem with wealthy thrill-seekers failing in their efforts to scale the tallest mountain on earth, the entire human population admitted Tuesday that they are, in fact, completely fine with rich people dying on Mount Everest. “These guys shelling out a hundred grand to climb a 29,000-foot peak with a team of Sherpas are obviously aware that many people have died in the attempt, so they kind of know what they’re getting into, right?” said Cleveland resident Richard Warvil, echoing the sentiments of the world’s 7.7 billion people, who acknowledged the deaths of affluent amateur climbers who voluntarily ascend to heights at which oxygen stops reaching the brain don’t really upset them all that much. “At a certain point, you’re kind of bringing it on yourself. Plus, if you have that much disposable income and, of all the things you could do with that money, you choose to spend it on this—well, we’re actually okay with you dying. It may sound harsh, but we’re gonna get along just fine without you.” At press time, sources confirmed no candlelight vigils were being held at the foot of Mount Everest.”
Pretty much. Except, it is not so much apathy over their deaths as sadness for squandering their lives.
May they rest in peace. And may those willing to risk a frozen grave on Everest instead become enlightened by the Holy Spirit and trade goals that will turn to ashes and ice into things that will last forever.