National Geographic : 2013 Jun
88 national geographic • June 2013 Trudging nose to butt up the ropes that had been fixed to the steep slope, Panuru and I were wedged between strangers above us and below us. The day before, at Camp III, our team had been part of a small group. But when we woke up this morning, we were stunned to see an end- less line of climbers passing near our tents. Now, bumper to bumper at 27,000 feet, we were forced to move at exactly the same speed as everyone else, regardless of strength or ability. In the swirling darkness before midnight, I gazed up at the string of lights, climbers’ headlamps, rising into the black sky. Above me were more than a hundred slow-moving climbers. In one rocky section at least 20 people were attached An hour above high camp on the Southeast Ridge of Everest, Panuru Sherpa and I passed the first body. The dead climber was on his side, as if napping in the snow, his head half covered by the hood of his parka, goose down blowing from holes torn in his insulated pants. Ten minutes later we stepped around another body, her torso shrouded in a Canadian flag, an abandoned oxygen bottle holding down the flapping fabric. to a single ratty rope anchored by a single badly bent picket pounded into the ice. If the picket popped, the rope or carabiner would instantly snap from the weight of two dozen falling climb- ers, and they would all cartwheel down the face to their death. Panuru, the lead Sherpa of our team, and I unclipped from the lines, swerved out into open ice, and began soloing—for experienced moun- taineers, a safer option. Twenty minutes later, another corpse. Still attached to the line of ropes, he was sitting in the snow, frozen solid as stone, his face black, his eyes wide open. Several hours later, before the Hillary Step, a 40-foot wall of rock and the last obstacle be- fore the summit, we passed yet another corpse. His stubbly face was gray, his mouth open as if moaning from the pain of death. Later I would learn the names of these four climbers: Chinese Ha Wenyi, who was 55; Nepali-Canadian Shriya Shah-Klorfine, 33; By Mark Jenkins THE NEW AGE OF EXPLORATION is a yearlong series of articles celebrating National Geographic at 125. national geographic joined forces with the north Face, the mayo Clinic, and montana state university in spring 2012 to sponsor an expedition in honor of the 50th anni- versary of the first american ascent of everest.