Mount Everest is the site of troubling geographies of death brought about by the boom in adventure tourism. On Everest, location of death, approaches to corpses and funerary rites remain spatially stratified and segregated along ethno-religious and cultural lines. The practical problems of recovering and removing dead bodies from an 8000m peak have led to significant accumulations of bodies. Above 8,000m corpses enter new ontic states, new spatio-temporal regimes. The normal processes of death, removal, disposal, leading to incorporeality are time bounded but here, at the extremes of altitude, the corpse persists in an atelic, unbounded state. Intentional disposal is suspended. Above 8,000m corpses have become fused to the mountain. The slopes of Everest have become a mortuary space; corpses are now features in a landscape, stuck in a liminal phase, with none of the accompanying rites of separation, transformation and incorporation normally accorded the human body after death. Rapidly accelerating climate change has also now begun to release informally interred human remains from lower down the mountain. Everest remains the focus of a multimillion dollar adventure travel industry that sells the summit of Everest via ‘Death Zone’ rhetoric but scarcely mentions the corpses encountered on the mountain, contributing to its unworldliness, rendering the summit space a ‘state of exception where neither political law nor the habitus of everyday life apply’ (Marder 2012).
Jonathan Westaway is a Senior Research Fellow in History in the School of Humanities, Languages and Global Studies at the University of Central Lancashire. A cultural and environmental historian, his research focusses on imperial cultures of exploration in both polar and mountain environments, drawing on insights from both cultural geography and anthropology. His recent research has examined British imperial leisure cultures, knowledge practices and mountain environments in India and Central Asia c.1850–1947 and their representation in travel writing, photography and film. He is the author of articles on the history of mountains and mountaineering and a recent article in Atlantic Studies entitled ‘The Inuit discovery of Europe? The Orkney Finnmen, preternatural objects and the re-enchantment of early-modern science’. He is currently writing a book for Manchester University Press entitled Worlds Made by Winter: A Journey into Arctic Orkney.