The accidental graveyard in the “Death Zone” of Mt. Everest

The summit of K2 is in the death zone. Image credit: Svy123 on Wikipedia

The summit of K2 is in the death zone. Image credit: Svy123 on Wikipedia

Many climbers dream about making the dangerous trek to the summit of Mt. Everest because of the adventure and challenges involved.   But the grim statistic is that for every ten climbers who’ve conquered the mountain, one has died either on the way up or way down.

More than 200 people have died on Mt. Everest because of the dangerous environment of the appropriately named Death Zone.  The Death Zone lies above 26,000ft in the highest altitudes of the mountain.   The oxygen level here is not adequate to support human life because the body simply can’t adapt.  At this altitude the body uses oxygen faster than it can be replaced, so if climbers linger in this region too long without supplementary oxygen, they will feel like they’re slowly suffocating.   When a climber reaches the Death Zone they have 2 or 3 days to reach the top, which is easier said than done.  It can take climbers 12 hours to hike 1 mile because of the lack of oxygen.

If a climber dies on Mt. Everest there is a good chance their body will stay on the mountain and the remains will mummify due to the extreme cold and sun.  Many corpses are left behind because of the treacherous conditions involved in recovery efforts.  There are about 150 corpses scattered around the different routes on Mt. Everest, creating macabre landmarks along the way to the summit.  On the Southeast Ridge Route there is Camp IV, the final camp before the final push to the summit; on the Northeast Ridge Route there is “Rainbow Valley” and Green Boots Cave.

Hannelore Schmatz was a German mountaineer who was on an expedition to Everest’s summit via the Southeast Ridge Route.  On October 2, 1979, after reaching the summit, Schmatz died just before returning to Camp IV.  Her mummified corpse used to greet climbers at 330 feet (100 meters) above Camp IV, still leaning against her backpack.   Five years after she died, a Nepalese police inspector and a Sherpa fell to their deaths attempting to recover Hannelore’s body.  At some point years later, the wind finally claimed her body by pushing it over the edge of the mountain.

“Rainbow Valley” is a deceptively cheery sounding landmark along the Northeast Ridge Route that got its name from the multicolored down jackets and climbing gear attached to the numerous corpses littered along the hillside.  Adventurers who climb the summit along this route cannot make the trek without encountering these colorful cadavers.  Over the years climbers have either cut ropes holding mummified corpses in place or pushed bodies over the hillside.  Despite this bodies are still visible in the Rainbow Valley.  The Northeast Ridge Route has claimed the lives of famous adventurers George Mallory (1886-1924) and Peter Boardman (1950-1982).

George Mallory pictured during his 1921 Everest Expedition; Mallory right on rear row. Image credit: Fcarcena01 on Wikipedia

George Mallory pictured during his first Everest Expedition in 1921; Mallory right on rear row. Image credit: Fcarcena01 on Wikipedia

Green Boots Cave is a landmark located at 27,890 feet along the Northeast Ridge Route.  “Green Boots” is the nickname given to one of the corpses because of his bright green mountaineering boots.  People believe the body belongs to an Indian climber, Tsewang Paljor, who crawled into the cave in a desperate effort to survive.  Paljor was part of a six-man team from India that tried to reach the top of Everest in 1996.  When the team was close to the summit a blizzard hit and  three members decided to turn back.  But Paljor and two others decided to keep trying and paid the ultimate price.  It’s believed that “Green Boots” is Paljor because he was wearing green boots the day he was last seen alive.

Body of "Green Boots" laying on his side near a cave along the Northeast Route of Mt. Everest. Image credit: Maxwelljo40 on Wikipedia.

Body of “Green Boots” laying on his side near a cave along the Northeast Route of Mt. Everest. Image credit: Maxwelljo40 on Wikipedia.

Supposedly guide services require climbers to sign away their lives and afterlives because of the very real possibility of death and the treacherous conditions involved in recovery efforts.  These services have climbers sign forms authorizing them to leave their bodies behind, or pay for recovery attempts that can cost at least $30,000.


godhead/v. (2010 April 5).  Abandoned on Everest.  Retrieved from:

Weindinger, P. (2013 June 13).  10 Harrowing Stories Of Life And Death On Mount Everest.  Retrieved from:

Zimmermann, Kim A (2012 September 20).  Mount Everest: World’s Highest Mountain.  Retrieved on May 2, 2014 from:

A previous version of this article showed a picture of what I thought was Hannelore Schmatz’s body, which may actually be the body of famed British adventurer, Peter Boardman.  Also Rainbow Valley was listed as being on the Southeast Ridge Route when it is on the Northeast Ridge Route.

Categories: History

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30 replies

  1. Just a heads up, an FYI—the picture ID’d as Hannelore Schmatz is actually the body of Peter Boardman. Again, just a friendly point-out.


  2. To the best of my knowledge no photo of Peter Boardman’s body has been published on the internet. There is, however, a photo circulating which for some reason has been misidentified as Boardman. I included details of the origin of that photo and why it is not Boardman on the Talk page of Boardman’s Wikipedia article under the heading: Internet photos of body wrongly claimed to be Peter Boardman.

  3. Littering in its most appalling form. It’s a shame a sacred mountain has been defiled in this manner. Trash, feces, corpses reeking of hubris, this needs to stop. As a Nepalese-American, I’m hoping at some point my countrymen can find a way to return our mountain to its past dignified splendor. Fines ought to be levied and nations forced to assume responsibility.

    • I thought they were now fining litterers, some kind’ve of deposit scheme? – but I can’t find where I read that. Climbers bring much money & employment but environment has to come before £$.

    • Since you’re Nepalese-American surely you know (more likely you don’t) that Nepal is a very poor country and needs the money brought in by tourists and climbers. Every income resource is precious to that country. I assume this is why they haven’t shut down the mountain. It’s also not a nation’s fault that its citizens have had accidents on this mountain and died. So you can’t sue Japan for a Japanese dying on the mountain. It wasn’t their fault. I’d suggest a form of climbing insurance be invented and eventually mandatory which will pay for recovery efforts incase of death on the mountain. Of course who would dare go on that venture if 1/10 people die on the mountain. Or make it so that you have to pay $30,000 to climb and a % is returnable if you make it back and if you perish, it’s used to recover your body. There’s my 2 cents.

      • You can’t recover bodies. The cost is more like $200,000, and the task of recovering the bodies usually kills the rescuers too. It’s the death zone. Every step feels like a 1000 lbs on your back holding you down. You’re not able to carry yourself hardly, much less someone else. Rule of thumb is this: if you can’t walk, you’re usually left to die. Sherpa religion also prohibits touching corpses on the mountain.

      • I don’t like it anymore than you probably do, but as the late Rob Hall’s wife said, “He wouldn’t want anyone risking their life to recover his body.” That’s the general feeling and I think Rainbow Valley has been designated a protected mass grave so that those who remain up there, will hopefully be undisturbed. It also costs much more than $30,000 – if you’re getting a decent, safe package. You can pay as little as $7,000 – but, just youtube “Lost in the Death Zone: Mathew Michaels”, and you’ll see why that’s a terrible idea.

  4. R.I.P. climbers

  5. I came upon this as my brother left today to climb Mt Everest. (On twitter @llewellynconno) Boy, I wish I hadn’t read as much as I did…. so worried about him, yet I find the adventure and what’s on the mountain interesting.


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