Adventurer Noel Hanna made this discovery in May 2014, when he was surprised to find not only that Green Boots’ cave was devoid of its familiar resident, but also that many of the bodies on the north side – one stretch of which is sometimes referred to as “rainbow ridge,” for the colourful down suits of its many fallen climbers – seemed to have vanished. Hanna estimates that, previously, up to 10 bodies were visible on the push to the summit, but in 2014 he only counted two or three. “I would be 95% certain that [Paljor] has been moved or covered with stones,” Hanna says.
In keeping with Everest tradition, however, the circumstances surrounding the removal of the remains are not entirely clear. Hanna suspects that it could have been the Chinese Tibetan Mountaineering Association and the Chinese Mountaineering Association, which manage Everest’s north side. Five weeks prior to undertaking his climb, he had suggested to officials at a dinner that they move the bodies. “Apparently nobody had pointed that out to the person in charge before,” he says.
I asked Li Guowei, the deputy director of the foreign exchange department at the Chinese Mountaineering Association, for more details. He said that he was eager to provide answers to questions about the efforts, but that any media communications must be conducted through official channels. After more than a month of trying, however, he conceded that he did not think the request would receive approval from officials in Tibet any time in the near future.
“Their approach is very Chinese,” says Dawa Steven, who regularly works with them. “They don’t tell us what they’re doing and they don’t want the publicity.” The Chinese also do not like private teams to conduct their own clean-ups, he says. “From my perspective, it seems like it’s a matter of national pride.”
Relatives, however, do not seem to have been informed, as this news came as a surprise to Thinley. When I told him what I had heard, he paused for moment. “That’s a relief,” he finally said. “Thank you for telling me.”
Return to the mountain
Amid all the death, the pollution, the overcrowding and the increasingly questionable merit of reaching the summit, will people ever decide the mountain simply is not worth it anymore?
Not likely, if the past is anything to go on.
Just as the 1996 tragedy did nothing to quell people’s interest in Everest, the back-to-back horrors of the past two years seem to have had little effect. After the 2014 avalanche, many Sherpas vowed not to return to Everest until working conditions – including life insurance policies – were improved. For most, either out of economic necessity or choice, the sentiment to stay away from the mountain seems to have been short lived.
Ang Dorjee, for example, opted out of the 2015 season after losing three lifelong friends in the avalanche, but he now plans to return in 2016. “I was a bit scared, so I skipped the season,” he says. “But time passes, and I’ve been doing this all my life.”
“Nobody’s ok with what happened,” adds Dawa Steven. “The last few years have been very traumatising for a lot of the Sherpas.” But of the 63 Sherpas he has on payroll, none have tendered their resignation. “No one has said ‘I don’t want to climb anymore,’ although some have gotten pressure from their wives and parents to stop,” he says.