At times, the encounter is personal. Ang Dorjee Chhuldim Sherpa, a mountaineering guide at Adventure Consultants who has summited Everest 17 times, was good friends with Scott Fischer, a mountain guide who died in the 1996 disaster on Everest’s south side. After his death, Fischer’s body remained in sight. “When you’re passing by and you see your friend lying there, you know exactly who it is,” he says. “I try not to look, but my eyes always go there.”
“People are somehow able to walk by these bodies and continue climbing by rationalising to themselves that whatever happened to this person will not happen to me,” says Christopher Kayes, chair and professor of management at the George Washington University in Washington DC.
Some, however, are not able to continue climbing. In 2010, Geert van Hurck, an amateur climber from Belgium, was making his way up Everest’s north side when he came across a “coloured mass” on the ground. Realising it was a climber, Van Hurck quickly approached, eager to offer any help he could. That was when he saw the bag. Someone had placed a plastic bag over the man’s face to prevent birds from pecking out his eyes. “It just didn’t feel right to climb any further and celebrate at the summit,” Van Hurck says. “I think maybe I was seeing myself lying there.” He would almost certainly have summited, but returned to camp, shaken and upset.
For my money, Into Thin Air remains the essential work on the commercialization of Everest and its horrific consequences.