Tag Archives: mountain

Mountain streams aren’t pristine any longer — not when humans move in

Mountain spring water isn’t as clean or fresh as we like to assume, according to new research.

Data collected over four decades shows that the quality of water in high-elevation (mountain) streams has been steadily decreasing over time. The issues underlying this decline are both historical and modern, related to man-made developments in hilly and mountainous landscapes.

The main sources of pollutants in mountain streams are sediment from unpaved, rural roads, and agricultural runoff.

No longer pristine

“We had access to studies from 1976 to last year that encompassed both stream and terrestrial studies,” said Rhett Jackson, a professor at UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources and the paper’s lead author. “Some streams in Macon County have very high sediment concentrations, four times greater than found in forested streams.”

The findings are based on data from the U.S.’ Southern Appalachian area. Streams here still carry the signs of environmental changes caused by European settlers moving into the region during the 1900s, the authors report.

Native Americans, the original inhabitants of the Southern Appalachians, traditionally only farmed the valleys strewn along this mountain chain. They left the hills and mountain slopes undeveloped as woodlands, where they would hunt and gather wild fruits and plants.

When settlers moved in, however, they engaged in heavy logging, to obtain timber for trade and construction, and to clear space for farmland. This process significantly changed the landscape of the area’s hills and mountain slopes. New farmland established on the hills promoted erosion, and the sediment produced by that erosion was gradually cleaned away by rainfall into high-altitude streams.

Even today, the authors explain, streambeds in the Southern Appalachians carry those century-old bodies of sediment, under layers of fresh material that is still making its way into their courses.

High levels of sediment affect the wild animals living in the streams, Jackson explains. For starters, it makes it harder for animals to find food as it makes the waters murky. It also has a direct impact on fish growth and their ability to resist disease.

Sediment builds up downstream as well, making its way into public water supplies. As such, there’s a direct financial cost to communities, as these impurities need to be filtered out before water can be pumped to taps around towns and cities.

The team underscores that these changes in sediment input into high-altitude streams first started manifesting over one century ago, and are the result of environmental changes caused by increased habitation due to settlers moving into the area.

“The landscape you see now isn’t what it was like in 1900—the early settlers logged everything,” said Jackson.

Although the first settlers started this process, their descendants today are carrying the torch. Starting with the 1980s, for example, the area saw a massive rise in interest for the development of the steep (and previously wild) mountain slopes. A large number of vacation residences and villas were built on these slopes, generating significant land disturbance through the buildings themselves and associated infrastructure — the carving out of roads. Such development made the area rife for landslides, and the unpaved roads that reached these buildings produced ample dust.

“Roadside ditches and unpaved roads produce a lot of sediment, [which] increases as roads get steeper and as gravel roads get more use,” said Jackson.

The authors report that while a typical stream in the southern Appalachian forest contains around 8 to 10 milligrams of sediment per liter, in areas with both mountain and hill development, they have found concentrations of sediment between four to six times this value.

Farming also plays a part. Runoff from farms introduces a high level of nitrates into mountain streams. Levels of these compounds are particularly high for streams running past pastures that do not enjoy a buffer of trees to absorb some of the fertilizer. Deforestation further impacts the health of wild communities in these streams as the lack of shade leads to higher average water temperatures, which can be damaging for trout and other local species that are adapted to cold waters. Around 40% of the streams in the study area have lost their buffer of trees, the team reports.

“On small streams, the actions of individual landowners matter a lot,” he said. “Sometimes, we see unusual streamside activities [such as illicit discharge pipes or streams diverted through animal enclosures] with substantial water quality effects.”

“Because the water in streams comes from the whole landscape, everything we see on the land has some effect on streams. But streams are resilient, and as long as we intelligently modify our actions a little bit, we can farm and live near streams while protecting their water quality. Maintaining the quality of our landscape requires a little thought and work on our parts.”

Taking small, simple steps, such as planting rows of trees near an open stream, or making sure to buffer runoff from a gravel road, can help a great deal in improving the water quality of open streams, the team concludes.

The paper “Distinctive Connectivities of Near-Stream and Watershed-Wide Land Uses Differentially Degrade Rural Aquatic Ecosystems” has been published in the journal BioScience.

Climbing Mount Everest just got a lot harder after the famous Hillary Step collapsed

If you’ve ever wanted to climb up Mount Everest… things got a bit more complicated.

The Hillary Step, named after Sir Edmund Hillary, the famous explorer who first reached Mount Everest, has reportedly collapsed, likely due to the massive earthquake which hit Nepal in 2015. The step was a nearly vertical rock face, measuring 12 meters in height (39 ft), right under the Everest peak, at 8,790 metres (28,839 ft) above sea level. It’s generally considered to be the last real challenge before reaching the summit via the southeast way.

The step was probably the most challenging and most technical passage on the ascent to Everest, though it could sometimes be bypassed by snow or ice climbing. Falling from the Hillary step would result in a 3,048 m (10,000 ft) drop on the right (when going up) and a 2,438 m (8,000 ft) drop on the left.

It was believed that the step collapsed back in 2015, but there was so much snow and ice that it was impossible to tell what the state of the rocks was. Now, upon inspecting the area, British mountaineer Tim Mosedale wrote on Facebook page:

“It’s official – The Hillary Step is no more. Not sure what’s going to happen when the snow ridge doesn’t form because there’s some huge blocks randomly perched hither and thither which will be quite tricky to negotiate.”

“It was reported last year, and indeed I climbed it last year, but we weren’t sure for certain that the step had gone because the area was blasted with snow. This year, however, I can report that the chunk of rock named the Hillary Step is definitely not there any more,” Mosedale added.

Moseley, who climbed Everest for the sixth time this May, said that this is the end of an era.

“It is associated with the history of Everest, and it is a great shame a piece of mountaineering folklore has disappeared,” he said.

However, despite the huge changes and the uncertainty that this fall brings, there is still a chance that the rock falling might, in fact, make the climb easier.

“It’s easier going up the snow slope and indeed for inexperienced climbers and mountaineers there’s less ‘climbing’ to be done, making it much easier for them,” Mosedale told the website Planet Mountain.

“However, it’s going to form a bottleneck. The Hillary Step often formed a bottleneck but some years ago they fixed an up and a down rope. In the current state it would be difficult to safely negotiate down where the step used to be on account of the huge unstable rocks that are perched on the route.”

Pristine mountain habitats are also not safe from climate change

Incoming climate change will have a drastic effect on pristine mountain habitats across the world, a new study has found.

Image credits: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

As we’ve mentioned so many times before, no corner of the Earth will be left untouched by global warming. A new study by University of Manchester researchers which spanned seven major mountain regions of the world revealed that decreasing elevation – descending a mountainside to warmer levels – is an excellent proxy for studying climate change. Basically, this acts as a ‘surrogate’ indicator of climate warning and is very useful for simulating what will happen when the climate changes. What they found is that rising temperatures will create a mismatch between soils, plants, and other ecosystem actors. This will have a cascade effect and will be felt across the entire ecosystem.

Manchester ecologist Professor Richard Bardgett, who was part of the international team that initiated and designed the study, explains:

”A clear message from our findings is that climate warming could change the functional properties of mountain ecosystems and potentially create a disequilibrium, or mismatch, between plants and soils in high mountain areas.

“Not only could this have far reaching consequences for biogeochemical cycles but it could also affect mountain biodiversity.”

Basically, changing temperatures are affecting nutrient availability in soils. This, in turn, affects the plants and the soil’s microbial communities. This perturbs the very base of the ecosystem and the entire food chain. Professor Bardgett, based in Mancheser’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, added:

“Mountain areas cover a large part of the Earth’s land surface and are very vulnerable to climate change.”

It’s not a secret that mountain areas are vulnerable to climate change, but this is the most comprehensive study of its kind to date, and it also involves a more innovative approach. Instead of using short term or localized experiments, they analyzed real places above and below the alpine line (the highest elevation at which trees still survive) in many parts of the world, in many different types of environments. Bardgett adds:

”Our results, which come from an extensive study of elevation gradients across seven mountain regions of the world – including Japan, British Columbia, New Zealand, Patagonia, Colorado, Australia, and Europe – suggest that future climate warming will substantially alter the way that these sensitive ecosystems function.”

Interestingly, despite all these different areas (which include different soils and different types of ecosystems), results were quite similar: the effects of climate change are far-reaching and long lasting. From the lowest field to the tallest mountain, we’ll feel it everywhere.

“What we found was remarkably consistent across the different mountain regions of the world. Our results not only suggest that warming could impact the way that plants grow in mountain ecosystems, but also that these changes are linked to effects of warming on soils, especially the cycling of key nutrients that sustain the growth of plants.”

It’s extremely unlikely that the ecosystems would manage to adapt to these changes. Shifts of 1 or 2 degrees are not uncommon on geological scales — but geological scales are hundreds of thousands and millions of years, while this is centuries we’re talking about. Birds can’t completely change their migration routes, and old trees can’t shift to changing soil conditions. If the ball gets rolling, it’s not stopping.

The findings are published in the journal Nature in a paper entitled ‘Elevation alters ecosystem properties across temperate tree lines globally’.

Just days in the mountains can improve your blood for months

I love camping. Being around nature, away from the push and shove of the city is simply thrilling. You cook your own food, you walk a lot every day and you feel like a completely new person. Well in a way, you actually are a different person. A new study has found that just a few hours in the mountains can significantly change your bloodstream, and two weeks can have a long-lasting effect on your blood.

Photo by Jeremyfrimer.

It’s the first time researchers have thoroughly analyzed the blood of mountain hikers, and their findings contradict a century-old assumption. The assumption was that in high-altitude environments, humans start producing new red blood cells that are more capable of supplying oxygen to their muscles and organs than the average human’s blood.

“That’s been the story for 50 years,” Robert Roach, lead investigator and director of the Altitude Research Centre at the University of Colorado, told Richard A. Lovett at Science.

But experience tells us otherwise. While that may be true for populations spending their whole life in high-altitude environments, mountaineers and backpackers have long felt that this is simply not true. Basically, it takes at least a week for the body to start replacing the new blood cells, and people can feel the effects much faster than that – sometimes even overnight. So researchers knew that something wasn’t right.

In order to test their theory, they sent 21 healthy volunteers (12 males and nine females, 19 to 23 years old) to Bolivia, at an altitude of 5,260 metres (17,257 feet). At that altitude, the atmosphere holds 53% as much oxygen as the air at sea level, making it harder to breathe – and to exercise. But the body can adapt.

The volunteers were tasked with a 3.2-km (2-mile) hike, after which they descended to 1,525 metres for a seven day rest period. After this, they were asked to go up again and attempt the same hike. Their blood was monitored for the entire period. The initial results showed that the second time, the hike was much easier. But blood samples showed an intriguing result as well: the body wasn’t producing new blood cells, it was changing the one it already had. The changes were far more complex than they had anticipated.

“We provide for the first time supportive evidence of red blood cell metabolic adaptations that ensue within hours from exposure to high altitude hypoxia,” the team concludes.

This is exciting for several reasons. First of all, it means that even if you’re not born with a high-altitude genetic variation, you can still easily adapt to the environment. Second of all, it means that our bodies are much better prepared in dealing with these situations than we thought. It could also have an unexpected significance, enabling us to better treat some wounds.

“Low oxygen is also a problem when trauma – from car accidents to gunshot wounds – causes blood loss,” says Lovett. “Finding ways to kick the blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity into high gear in such an emergency … could save lives in both the civilian sector and on the battlefield.”

So get that old tent out from the closet and put on your trekking boots – it’s time to hit the mountains!

The research has been published in the Journal of Proteome Research

The American pika is being killed off by climate change

The American pika, “one of the cutest animals” in the country, is feeling the heat as a hotter, drier summers threaten its habitat.

I brought you a gift! Don’t kill us please.
Image credits NPS Climate Change / Flickr.

Whole populations of the tiny rabbit-like mammal known as the American pika are vanishing from the animal’s historic range in the mountainous areas of the western USA. The main culprit seems to be loss of habitat powered by climate change, according to findings by the US Geological Survey. After observing the animal from 2012 to 2025, the Survey found that the pika’s range is shrinking in southern Utah, north-east California, and in most of Nevada, parts of Utah, Oregon, Idaho and California — almost the entire Great Basin.

The study provides more conclusive evidence to the effect of global warming on the tiny mammal, building on earlier research which found that climate change was at least partly contributing to the animal’s decline. It did not measure how many total American pika still exist, but studied several areas where it has historically roamed eating grass, weeds and wildflowers. While the pika overall seems to be struggling, the study found that it’s thriving in a few places — most notably the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon and Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

But don’t rest easy just yet. The American pika (all species of pika are extremely cute) has completely disappeared from the Zion National Park in Utah, despite sightings as recently as 2011. In the nearby Cedar Breaks National Monument, the animal was nowhere to be seen on three-quarters of their historical range according to Erik Beever, a research ecologist with the USGS and lead author of the study. In north-eastern California, the pika was only found in 11 of the 29 sites of confirmed habitat. In the Great Basin, which stretches from Utah’s Wasatch mountains in the east to the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains in the west, the population is down about 44% compared to historical records.

“The longer we go along, the evidence continues to suggest that climate is the single strongest factor,” said Beever.

Essentially, the pika are dying of exposure in their own burrows, and it’s all because of us.

The pika are tailored to live in a very specific conditions, and are very sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity. The animals make their home on mountain slopes, known as talus, where they search for open spaces in the ground to burrow. But the talus fields are becoming a much hotter, drier place in summer and a very harsh place in winter, with less snowfall to insulate the critter from cold.

The historical range of the American Pika. The animal resides in cool, moist microhabitats on high peaks or watercourses. Distribution data from IUCN Red List.
Image credits Wikimedia user Chermundy.

The study is the latest argument in the long-running efforts of wildlife advocacy groups, which have been trying to get the pika on the endangered species list for a few years now. In 2010, the US Fish and Wildlife Service rejected one such request, citing that not all populations are declining. The latest petition was made this April by a high school student in New York state. This situation isn’t singular — ZME Science reported the other day that the average waiting time for a species to make the Endangered Species list is 12 years, or six times more than the designated timeline. 

A preliminary ruling is due this September, but the new study won’t be taken into account because the agency’s staff only takes into consideration information submitted with the petition, said Serena Baker, a USFWS spokeswoman. Hopefully, the ruling will be in favor of the pika. But, should the USFWS turn it down, the study should help future petitions to have the animal declared endangered, as the study confirms that climate change is putting the animal at real risk, says endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity in Arizona Noah Greenwald. Without such a ruling, future generations of mountain enthusiasts may not have the chance to see these lovable critters on their hikes, he adds.

“It’s gotta be one of the cutest animals in North America. It’s like a cross between a bunny rabbit and prairie dog,” Greenwald said. “Part of what makes our world interesting is the diversity of animals and plants that you can see when you go to different species.”

President Barack Obama is a big supporter of the issue. During his Yosemite National Park speech in June this year, he talked about the damage climate change is inflicting on the country’s national parks. He said the pika was being forced further up-slope at Yosemite to escape the heat.

“It’s not that they’ve just moved, they are gone all together,” Beever said.


mountain fauna

Mid-altitude biodiversity most influenced by topography, but why is this important?

In a mountainous setting, you’ll find the most species somewhere around mid-altitude. The consensus is that further up there is less oxygen and the temperature is lower, while further down factors like human disturbance hinders diversity. Swiss researchers who thoroughly modeled biodiversity in a terrain that actually mimics a mountain, not an ideal cone or hill, found a different explanation which seems to be more important that temperature, humidity or anything else. It’s all about the topography of the terrain, and whether or not it allows for niches to become connected. The findings could prove extremely important in gauging the future impact of migrating species to higher elevation as a result of climate change.

mountain fauna

Photo: Chamonix.net

In a patch of land, the number of species that can live in harmony, let’s say, depends on a number of factors. For instance, a large area will most often than not host many more species than a smaller area though the conditions may be the same. Keeping this in mind, researchers from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Zurich transposed what we know about biodiversity in the flatlands to the mountainous terrain.

“In mountainous terrain, peaks and valleys are isolated habitats, like islands in the ocean, whereas mid-elevation sites form well-connected patches,” explains Enrico Bertuzzo, a researcher at the Ecohydrology Lab at EPFL and first author of the study. “Given that habitat area and connectivity foster biodiversity, whereas isolation favors the dominance of few species, we hypothesized that topography itself could be playing a key role in regulating how biodiversity varies with elevation.”

Previously, these sort of studies were modeled on ideal surfaces, like a cone. These, however, failed to grasp the richness and complexity of an actual mountainous terrain. Bertuzzo and colleagues painstakingly considered all its complexity, then set loose hordes of virtual species in a computer simulation. Each species had an optimal altitude where it thrived, When the researchers let the virtual species compete for habitats on landscapes modeled on real-life ones, their simulations showed that topography alone was enough to explain biodiversity patterns observed in nature. “Other factors, like temperature, productivity, etc., are obviously also important, but they inevitably act on top of the unavoidable effect provided by the landscape structure,” the researchers note in  Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. 

The findings are very important given today’s context. As the planet heats, many species — both animals and plants — will migrate to a cooler habitat, which can be further north or south of their current position or at a more elevated altitude. But what will they find there? At mid-altitude, more competition if the terrain allows it, i.e. no peaks or valleys. It’s not important for migration models to take the present findings into account.

“Local species richness is found to be related to the landscape elevational connectivity, as quantified by a newly proposed metric that applies tools of complex network theory to measure the closeness of a site to others with similar habitat. Our theoretical results suggest clear geomorphic controls on elevational gradients of species richness and support the use of the landscape elevational connectivity as a null model for the analysis of the distribution of biodiversity,” the conclusion in the study’ abstract reads.

Mount Roraima – the most beautiful triple border in the world

Mount Roraima is the highest of the Pakaraima mountain chain in South America and one of the most spectacular geological formations in the world. The mountain also serves as the triple border point of Venezuela (85%), Brazil (5%) and Guyana (10%).

Image via Imgur.

Ever since before Europeans explored the mountain and the plateau, Roraima played a very important spiritual role for the indigenous populations. The Pemon and Kapon natives of the Gran Sabana see Mount Roraima as the stump of a mighty tree that once held all the fruits and tuberous vegetables in the world. Felled by Makunaima, their mythical trickster, the tree crashed to the ground, unleashing a terrible flood.

Image source.

Almost the entire surface of the plateau is barren sandstone – one of the oldest geological formations in the world, dating back to two billion years! However, this hasn’t stopped some bushes and algae from developing there; several species are unique in the world, because they developed isolated. Oreophrynella quelchii, commonly called the Roraima Bush Toad, is a diurnal toad usually found on open rock surfaces and shrubland. It is also unique to Mount Roraima. The species, like most on the plateau, is considered endangered.

Image source.

Today, Mount Roraima is a fairly popular destination for backpackers, climbers and nature lovers. Most travelers choose to start the ascent from Venezuela, hiring a local guide in the village of Paraitepui, which is reached by dirt road from the main Gran Sabana road between kilometre 88 and Santa Elena de Uairen. The path to the mountain is well marked, but it’s very easy to get lost on the plateau as there are few distinct trails and the peak is almost always surrounded by thick clouds. With some difficulty, you can actually reach the plateau without climbing, with the Paraitepui route; any other approach will involve climbing gear.

Image source.

A new gravity model gives us the clearest picture of the world's seabed up to now.

Most detailed Map of the Seafloor yet exposes Thousands of New Mountains

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego has released a new map of the world’s seafloor – the first in nearly 20 years – which exposes new terrain, including thousands of mountains. The unprecedented detail was attained using radar satellites that captures gravity measurements of the ocean seafloor. Armed with this more precise understanding of what lies beneath the world’s oceans, scientists can now establish more sophisticated and accurate climate models, as well as gain new clues on how the continents as they stand today formed past the eons.

The map of a watery world

A new gravity model gives us the clearest picture of the world's seabed up to now.

A new gravity model gives us the clearest picture of the world’s seabed up to now.

Mapping the surface of our planet’s seabed is a very important job, but also a highly challenging one. Scientists can not perform this job using the same tools for mapping mountains, hills and other terrain above sea level, since seawater is opaque to these methods. A really accurate reading can be achieved by ships carrying echosounders which bounce off sounds from the watery depths below, but it would take too much time and money to do this for the whole world’s seabed. Many features are also hidden by sediments, which renders sonar ineffective in this case. Generally, researchers turn to this technique when they really want to have a fine grained picture of the ocean’s bottoms, for a given area for different purposes. On a planetary scale, radar satellites are much more effective, though.

[ALSO READ] 39 unbelievable underwater pictures that will blow your mind

Dietmar Müller from the University of Sydney said: “You may generally think that the great age of exploration is truly over; we’ve been to all the remotest corners of continents, and perhaps one might think also of the ocean basins. But sadly this is not true – we know much more about the topography of Mars than we know about the seafloor.”

Mapping gravity


A new seafloor map reveals fracture zones which tell scientists about the movement of the continents.

Satellites fitted with radar altimeters can infer the surface of the ocean bottom from the surface of the water high above. Because water follows gravity, it is pulled into highs above the mass of tall seamounts, and slumps into depressions over deep trenches. Key insight such as this made the gross maps we now have at our disposal, but advances in satellite technology  have brought a two-fold improvement in the gravity model used to describe the ocean floor. This was possible thanks to data sets from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) CryoSat-2 satellite, which primarily captures polar ice data but also operates continuously over the oceans, and Jason-1, NASA’s satellite that was redirected to map the gravity field during the last year of its 12-year mission.

[RELATED] NASA releases global salinity map

Already, despite the work is far from finished, we can see an exponential growth in the detail available to us.

“In the previous radar dataset we could see everything taller than 2km, and there were 5,000 seamounts,” Prof Dave Sandwell, a Scripps Institution of Oceanography researcher.

“With our new dataset – and we haven’t fully done the work yet – I’m guessing we can see things that are 1.5km tall.

“That might not sound like a huge improvement but the number of seamounts goes up exponentially with decreasing size.

“So, we may be able to detect another 25,000 on top of the 5,000 already known,” he went on to explain.

The new map also gives geophysicists new tools to investigate ocean spreading centers and little-studied remote ocean basins.

“The kinds of things you can see very clearly now are abyssal hills, which are the most common land form on the planet,” said David Sandwell, lead scientist of the paper and a geophysics professor in the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP) at Scripps.

The newly released map now comes as a great tool for geophysicists looking to investigate remote ocean basins or ocean spreading centers. Abyssal hills – the most common land form on Earth – can now be more clearly discerned. These structures significantly influence oceans currents, and thus the climate. They’re also important to conservation efforts and fishery research since it’s around these kind of terrain that marine life tends to congregate.

The research also offers new insights into the tectonics of the deep oceans. For instance, the map has exposed a previously uncharted continental connection across South American and Africa – a different type of ridge feature that became separated roughly 85 million years ago .

What’s amazing is that one of the satellites used for the mapping, ESA’s Cryosat, was actually tasked with the primary mission of tracing the shape and thickness of polar ice fields – not the seabed. The technology onboard the satellite, however, proved to be invaluable for marine floor probing – something that became clear as soon as it took orbit.

“The team has developed and proved a powerful new tool for high-resolution exploration of regional seafloor structure and geophysical processes,” says Don Rice, program director in the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Division of Ocean Sciences. “This capability will allow us to revisit unsolved questions and to pinpoint where to focus future exploratory work.”

“The use of satellite altimeter data and Sandwell’s improved data processing technique provides improved estimates of marine gravity and bathymetry world-wide, including in remote areas,” said Joan Cleveland, Office of Naval Research (ONR) deputy director, Ocean Sensing and Systems Division. “Accurate bathymetry and identifying the location of seamounts are important to safe navigation for the U.S. Navy.”

The paper was reported in Science.





Everest clean up team goes up again

Everest is known as many things; first of all it’s the highest point in Asia, and in the world. It’s perhaps the peak over 8000 meters that most people try to climb (due to obvious reasons); but it also kills.


Despite not being the most dangerous peak on the face of the earth, it has killed over 300 people since the 1950s, and the numbers continue to grow. It’s also called the highest dumpster in the world. For these two reasons, every now and then, a team has to go up the mountain and clean any debris left behind, and, sadly, bodies as well.

A team of 20 Sherpas left in late April with the purpose of gathering any garbage left behind by climbers and to retrieve the bodies the mountain claimed in the death zone – above 8000 meters, where the air is 3 times thinner than on sea level. They also achieved one of their major goals – bringing back body of Swiss climber Gianni Goltz, who died in a brave attempt to climb the mountain without oxygen.

Also, along were brought the corpses of New Zealander Rob Hall and American Scott Fischer, guides in the infamous 1996 disaster described in the best-selling book Into Thin Air. When people die in these conditions, they are often left behind, due to the practical problems their carriage would rise. It’s a sad but necessary reminder that when tackling this type of heights, something unexpected can (and probably will) appear – in which case you have to be absolutely prepared; and even then, things can go wrong, especially when you consider there are other peaks way more dangerous than the everest.

The garbage left behind includes discarded tents, oxygen supplies, food, etc, and it will be put up for display at an exhibition at Everest base camp.

“Eight Sherpas have dug out the body from under the snow of Swiss climber Gianni Goltz and have brought his body down from the South Col to Camp 2,” Karki wrote.

The Sky Burial

First of all, it has to be said that this once common burial practice in Tibet is pretty hard to ‘digest’ for our ‘civilized’ world, and there’s a big chance you’ll find the pictures shocking. As adepts of Buddhism, Tibetans believe the single most important part of a person is its spirit, and after death, there is no reason to preserve the body, which is just a hollow vessel. Also, wood is very scarce and the soil is really rocky, making it hard to dig a grave. That’s pretty much why, after a somebody dies, the corpse was cut in specific locations and placed on a mountaintop where vultures feed off of it or it just decomposes.


My first impression when I first heard of it was quite severe; but thinking about it better, it does seem to make sense. I mean, digging a grave would be extremely hard and impractical, while finding enough fuel or wood for cremation would be practically impossible. Also, the spiritual meaning is not hard to understand, when you think outside the western ideology. The deceased is providing food for a part of nature, which is a proof of generosity, one of the most important things in Buddhism.


The Tibetan name for this ceremony is jhator, which literally means “giving alms to the birds”.


“Sky burial and open cremation may initially appear grotesque for Westerners, especially if they have not reflected on their own burial practice of embalming. For Tibetan Buddhists, sky burial and cremation are templates of instructional teaching on the impermanence of life.” (unknown)


It appeared grotesque for the Chinese government too, who prohibited it from 1950 to 1980, and non-Tibetans are allowed to witness this ceremony, though filming or even taking pictures is considered highly offensive. The full procedure is quite expensive, and for those who can’t afford it, simply placing the deceased on a high rock is the favorite option.

The ceremony takes place in light spirit, as the rogyapas (monks) who perform the ceremony talk to each other as when doing any other physical labor. There are different ways to do this; beating the body and bones together to a pulp is not uncommon, while some witnesses reported breaking the bones and cartilages with sledge hammers.


The vulture in this ceremony is nicknamed the “Eurasian Griffon”, and even with its big appetite, it can’t eat all that it’s being offered, because in some places there are even a few sky burials per day.


I had some quite interesting talks regarding this ceremony, so please share your opinion on this, it’d be great to see what you guys think about it.