(Warning: this deals with dead climbers, so to both set and lighten the mood a little, here is a picture of my son being an adorable zombie for Halloween:)
I think it started when I learned about the British adventurer George Mallory and his famous "because it is there" quote, when he was asked why he was going to climb Mount Everest prior to his expedition in 1924; which as far as I'm concerned is both the best and worst reason to do anything.
Mallory died on the mountain, possibly by accidentally stabbing himself with his ice-pick during a fall. His body was officially discovered in 1999.
He's not alone. A mind-boggling number of mountaineers have died on Everest since the first recorded fatalities in 1922. The most recent was in June.
All these deaths are sad, but what fascinates me is the bodies. most of the dead have never been recovered. They just stay there, year after year, decade after decade. Some get cairn burials (like Mallory), others are rolled into crevasses. Some become landmarks.
Summitting Everest is such a popular challenge that there are now ques to ascend the narrow pathway to the peak. Most of the hopeful climbers make it these days, but at some point they have to walk over the bodies of the ones who didn't.
It's a sobering and melancholy image, these tangible memento mori on what has now become the world's tallest tourist attraction. I'm sure Mallory never imagined that he'd end up part of a tourist package, or that the two unlucky men, either of whom may be Green Boots, imagined that in death they'd be known for their footwear rather than the men they'd been. And yet these ones are lucky--most of the corpses' names are known only to the ones who waited for them.
I think that's what I find so strangely compelling: the idea of this open-air graveyard, full of former people now famous only for being dead in the place they died. And in the cold and thin air, their corpses will endure long after their memories have disappeared from this earth.
It's sad, and strange. But if I had to choose, I'd rather be a landmark than a cautionary tale. Then again, I'm quite happy here (and alive) on the ground.
This post was inspired by a fantastic Avengers AU fanfic called The Mountain (though the mountain in the title is K2), written by Jay Tryfanstone