Whenever Mount Everest is in the news you’ll see images of dead bodies, or hear about tragic deaths. But how many people have died on the mountain so far?
Around 310 people have died so far on Mount Everest. Most deaths have been accurately recorded since the first Everest expeditions in the 1920s.
People dying on Everest is nothing new. Recorded deaths go back going right back to 1922, when Norbu Sherpa was killed in an accident.
The most famous Everest death of all time is probably George Mallory – read my account of how his body was discovered 75 years later.
If you take a look at when the deaths on Everest happened it reveals some interesting facts…
Below is the number of Everest deaths per decade. Note that although the Second World War killed millions, the war theoretically saved lives on Mount Everest because there were no expeditions during the 1940s.
It’s important to look at the death rate, not just the number of people who have died.
Notice that although the number of climbers killed rose enormously over the years (more climbers = more deaths), at the moment the actual death rate has decreased to around 3% of deaths per 100 successful summit climbs:
|Years||Number of Deaths|
|1930 – 1940||1|
|1940 – 1950||0|
|1950 – 1960||1|
|1960 – 1970||6|
|1970 – 1980||28|
|1980 – 1990||58|
|1990 – 2000||59|
|2010 – 2020||89|
How Many People Die Every Year on Everest?
If you look at all expeditions over the last century, an average of around three climbers a year die on Everest.
There are lucky years and unlucky years on Everest. And then there can be two bad years in a row. On April 18, 2014 sixteen Sherpas were killed in an avalanche that hit Base Camp.
Just over a year later, on April 25, 2015, nineteen climbers and three others were killed in another avalanche at Base Camp following an earthquake, which also killed at least 9,000 people elsewhere in Nepal. That count of 22 deaths is the worst single-day total ever in the history of Mount Everest (source: wikipedia).
So the average number to die per year over the century of climbing attempts on Mount Everest since 1921 is 3.1. And the death rate for every 100 successful summit climbs is about 3%.
How Many Sherpas Have Died on Everest?
To date, 99 Sherpas have died on Mount Everest. Therefore about a third of the total deaths have been those of the Sherpas.
This number is lower than other climbers, even though the Sherpas have the most exposure to the dangerous places such as the Icefall in the Western Cwm. This might suggest that the higher death rate of guided clients may be due to the clients’ inexperience.
A study published in the BMJ found that the death rate during all descents via standard routes was higher for paying climbers than for sherpas (2.7% (43/1585) v 0.4% (5/1231), P<0.001; all mountaineers 1.9%).
If it’s so dangerous, why do they still do it? working on Himalayan expeditions earns a lot of money for Nepalis. Sherpas are an ethnic group, and most but not all mountain porters and guides are Sherpas. Those who work on just one expedition a year can often buy a lodge where their family can also earn money from the trekking trade.
Sherpas are thus comparatively well-off in a country where the per capita income is just $1,155. A great deal of foreign exchange is earned from Mount Everest: $11,000 just for the permit to climb, then more money is earned by hotels and expedition organisers.
Oddly enough, the name of the first Sherpa to die on a Mount Everest expedition may never be known. An unknown porter who was recruited in Darjeeling for the 1921 Mount Everest Reconnaissance expedition died en route to the mountain, miles away from the actual mountain.
So too did Scotsman Dr. Alexander Kellas on that same 1921 expedition. He introduced the use of Sherpa porters and pioneered the use of bottled oxygen. He contracted dysentery in Sikkim and died being stretchered across a pass but the cause of his death was given as heart attack, possibly to spare the family from embarrassment. So were these two men also victims of Mount Everest?
Interestingly, the oldest body on Everest also belongs to a Sherpa – you can read more about the oldest body on Everest here.
If you’ve ever wondered how many of the dead bodies stay there, then read my article on How Many Dead Bodies are On Everest – and why they don’t get moved off the mountain.