Mount Everest’s Death Zone: What Happens to the Human Body?
Death Zone Everest

On reaching the death zone on the highest mountain on planet earth, Mount Everest, your body responds differently to the harsh conditions that come with reaching abnormally high altitudes on the mountain. The “Death Zone” on Mount Everest refers to altitudes above 8,000 meters (26,247 feet), where the oxygen levels are extremely low, posing significant challenges to climbers. At such high elevations, the human body struggles to function properly due to the thin air, leading to a range of life-threatening conditions.

What is the Death Zone?

Some elevations on the tallest peaks in the globe are so high that the human body is unable to operate effectively for a lengthy period. The term “death zone” refers to the extreme elevation that may be found at elevations that are higher than roughly 8,000 meters (26,247 ft).

Mountaineers face problems that might potentially endanger their lives, and it is one of the settings that is considered to be among the most harmful on our planet. In the absence of any external support systems, it is difficult for humans to maintain life in this environment.

In this post, we will investigate the many elements that contribute to the severe circumstances that are typically seen in the death zone.

Oxygen Concentrations in the Death Zone

There exists a direct relationship between the amount of oxygen present in the atmosphere and the air pressure.

Even though air contains 21% oxygen at all altitudes, the oxygen molecules can decompress and spread out to a greater extent at higher altitudes due to the lower air pressure. “Thin air” is a term that describes this phenomenon.

To put that into perspective, the air pressure at the peak of Mount Everest is just approximately one-third of what it is at sea level. As a consequence, the amount of oxygen that is accessible is just one-third of what it is at sea level. The human body suffers irreparable damage when it is deprived of oxygen.

Living at lower elevations, where oxygen levels are sufficient for maintaining life, is something that humans have evolved to the ability to do. Our bodies struggle to operate properly when we are exposed to the low oxygen environment of the death zone since oxygen is necessary for the functioning of our important organs.

When a person is in the death zone, what goes on within their body?

Hypoxia, also known as oxygen deprivation, is one of the most important variables that may contribute to the worsening of our health when we are in the death zone. Because the brain and other organs are extremely sensitive to oxygen levels, their functionality is significantly hindered when they are not provided with an adequate amount of oxygen.

As humans go to higher elevations, they go through a progression of different stages of complicated situations. Mild symptoms of altitude sickness, such as dizziness, headaches, and shortness of breath, are extremely prevalent and can be experienced by a significant number of people. However, when individuals progress farther into the death zone, the consequences that they experience grow more severe, resulting in impaired judgment, disorientation, loss of consciousness, and ultimately death. Both the length of time and the degree of oxygen deprivation have a role in determining the severity of these consequences.

Let’s investigate how hypoxia impairs the human body:

Impaired brain Function

The brain needs to have a steady supply of oxygen for it to function correctly since it is extremely sensitive to oxygen levels. Dizziness, disorientation, trouble concentrating, and poor judgment are some of the symptoms that patients may experience in the early phases of hypoxia treatment. As the levels of oxygen continue to decrease, cognitive function continues to worsen, which can result in problems with memory and difficulties with direction.

A very dangerous medical disorder known as high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) occurs when the brain becomes swollen with fluid while it is at a high altitude.

Decreased Capacity for Physical Activity

In order for the body to produce energy, oxygen is very necessary. When hypoxia is present, the muscles receive less oxygen, which results in a decline in both physical performance and endurance among the individual. When carried out at high elevations or in surroundings with low oxygen levels, activities that would be rather simple when carried out at sea level become significantly more difficult.

Insufficiency of Inhalation

Respiratory distress can be brought on by hypoxia, which can result in an increased respiratory rate, shortness of breath, and laborious breathing with difficulty. The normal reaction of the body is to try to compensate for the shortage of oxygen by breathing more quickly; however, this might lead to further issues if it is not implemented properly.

The medical illness known as high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) is a dangerous ailment that manifests itself at high altitudes. Because of the accumulation of fluid in the lungs, oxygen is unable to diffuse into the bloodstream.

Strain on the Cardiovascular System

In order to adjust for the low oxygen environment, the body responds by producing extra red blood cells as part of the acclimatization process. Red blood cells are responsible for transporting oxygen throughout the body. In the presence of a large concentration of red blood cells, the blood becomes more viscous. When it comes to pumping blood to the organs and tissues, the heart has to work harder. This increased effort can lead to a strain on the cardiovascular system, which may result in chest discomfort, irregular heartbeats, and an increased risk of heart failure in more severe situations.


Cyanosis is a condition that causes the skin, lips, and nail beds to become discolored in a bluish hue. A larger concentration of deoxygenated hemoglobin emerges as a consequence of the absence of oxygen in the blood, which causes the condition to manifest. As a visible symptom of hypoxia, cyanosis acts as an indicator of a significant oxygen deprivation in the body. Cyanosis is a condition that can be seen.

Damage to Organs

Organ damage can occur if hypoxia is prolonged or severe. The brain, the heart, and the kidneys are among the organs that are especially susceptible to the effects of oxygen deprivation. After only a few minutes of being devoid of oxygen, the brain can experience damage that cannot be reversed, although other organs may take longer to be impacted by the lack of oxygen.


Loss of consciousness is a potential consequence of hypoxia that is getting worse. This can happen unexpectedly and without any prior warning, particularly at high altitudes or in circumstances where oxygen levels decrease fast, such as in enclosed areas with little ventilation.

Seizures Caused by Hypoxia

People who are suffering from acute hypoxia may develop seizures in certain circumstances. The lack of oxygen in the brain is the root cause of these seizures, which are triggered by aberrant electrical activity in the brain.

Both coma and death:

In the event that the disease is not addressed or if the underlying cause of hypoxia continues to exist, the patient may eventually enter a state of unconsciousness or coma. If the amounts of oxygen are not restored, hypoxia can ultimately result in irreparable damage to key organs as well as death.

Physical Limits that the Human Body Is Capable of

Every single person, regardless of how physically fit they are, has their limits outside of the danger zone. Mountaineers and high-altitude climbers who seek to go to these great heights are required to gradually acclimatize their bodies to the decreased oxygen levels in the environment of the mountain. To accomplish this process, the body must be allowed to gradually adjust to the decreased oxygen atmosphere.

Nevertheless, the human body has its physiological limits, even after it has become acclimated to the environment. After a certain point, the death zone presents such terrible problems that no amount of preparation can ever be sufficient to conquer them. The human body can be swiftly pushed beyond its capability by lack of oxygen and intense cold, which can result in potentially life-threatening conditions.

When you are in the “Death Zone” on Everest, how long can you stay there?

Individuals are cautioned against remaining in the death zone for more than sixteen to twenty hours at a time. After forty-eight hours, the majority of individuals regard this to be the absolute threshold. In this case, additional oxygen is being used.

While Babu Chiri Sherpa on Everest set the record for the longest amount of time spent in the death zone, Pemba Gyalje on K2 set the record for the longest amount of time spent with oxygen, which was 90 hours. Both of these record holders are Sherpas, who have a genetic makeup that allows them to thrive in environments with high elevations.

Where on Mount Everest do the majority of fatalities take place?

The majority of fatalities that occur on Mount Everest take place within the death zone, typically during descents from the peak. On Mount Everest, the majority of climbers who have passed away have been found to have perished in the “death zone.”

This part of Everest, which is known as Rainbow Valley, is where a great number of people have lost their lives. The name is a reference to the assortment of brightly colored garments that are used to cover an individual’s body. Trash, tents, and oxygen tanks are also there in addition to the dead.

Just how low may your oxygen level get before you pass away?

It is typical for us to work with an oxygen saturation level that ranges from 95% to 100%. When the oxygen levels in the body drop below 85%, the body will no longer operate correctly. Once the oxygen level falls below that threshold, issues will start to arise. There is a possibility of instant death or unconsciousness occurring when oxygen levels fall below 55%.

On Everest, the Reasons Why Climbers Use Oxygen

When climbing in the “death zone,” supplemental oxygen is a climber’s only hope for survival. Although it does not remove all concerns, it continues to be an essential tool in high-altitude climbing since it enables climbers to conquer the highest peaks in the world with more self-assurance and safety.

If climbers make use of supplemental oxygen, they can reduce the likelihood of experiencing altitude-related illnesses, which will allow them to ascend in a manner that is both safer and more effective. It gives an essential boost to oxygen levels, which helps to maintain physical performance, aids in decision-making, and reduces the risk of problems connected to hypoxia.

A climber’s chances of successfully reaching the peak are greatly improved when they make use of supplementary oxygen. Maintaining energy levels and reducing weariness are also benefits of this. In addition, oxygen supplementation is an essential safety strategy in the death zone. It gives climbers a buffer against unanticipated conditions or crises, such as supporting other climbers who are in difficulty or treating unexpected difficulties that are caused by altitude sickness.

On the other hand, despite the fact that supplementary oxygen is believed to be essential for many climbers, there are certain climbers who opt to climb Everest without oxygen for reasons that are either personal or ethical. Because of the added mental and physical hurdles they experience, these climbers push the limits of what is considered humanly possible. Only a few number of individuals have successfully climbed Everest without the use of oxygen.

On Everest, how many people have lost their lives?

Over three hundred and thirty people have lost their lives on the slopes of Mount Everest between the years 1921 and 2023 by themselves. The causes of these fatalities can be ascribed to a wide variety of reasons, such as avalanches, falls, exposure to harsh temperatures, altitude sickness, and a variety of other mishaps that are related to climbing.

When it comes to Mount Everest, what is the death rate?

With a fatality rate of roughly one per cent, Mount Everest is considered to be one of the most dangerous mountains in the world. The death rate is found by dividing the number of people who have perished by the total number of people who have reached the top. On average, between five and ten people lose their lives during the peak each year.

It is important to note that these numbers change from year to year, with certain periods being more lethal. Taking 2023 as an example, it was one of the bloodiest years in history, with 17 people losing their lives. The general death rate, on the other hand, has been decreasing over the previous several decades, falling from 1.6% to 1.0%.

How come there are still dead bodies on Everest?

Although it may appear harsh to abandon bodies on the mountain, it is not feasible to retrieve them. It is an extremely demanding undertaking to retrieve bodies safely due to the challenging high-altitude climate, harsh weather conditions, and perilous terrain. As a consequence of this, many people who have met their untimely demise on the mountain are left untouched, kept in the very spot and position where their adventure came to an end.

How many people are currently on Everest?

On Everest, there are more than two hundred bodies that is still there. As a result of the cold, they have been well maintained and have gained some notoriety as landmarks among other climbers that they are associated with.

The body known as “Green Boots” is among the most well-known locations on the mountain. Tsewang Paljor, who passed away in 1996, is the subject of this nickname, which relates to his remains. Because of the brilliant colours of his boots, his resting location has become a well-known landmark along the path that goes northeast.

The “Sleeping Beauty” body is yet another well-known physique. This is the moniker that was given to Francys Arsentiev, an American climber who passed away in 1998 when she was coming down from the mountain. Her body, which had been lying in plain sight near the peak for many years, was given this name because of the tranquil aspect it possessed.


In 1924, George Mallory, who was considered to be one of the most prominent climbers in the world, went down on Everest. His body was discovered in 1999, which was seventy-five years after he had vanished. It has never been determined where the corpse of his climbing buddy, Andrew Irvine, is located. One of the most perplexing questions in climbing is whether or not the two individuals truly made it to the peak.

Final Thoughts

The high-altitude death zone is a harsh environment that presents a great deal of difficulty since it is so difficult for humans to survive there. This rough terrain is a visual representation of the limitations of human adaptation. While mountaineers continue to push the limits of human ability by attempting to climb these peaks, it is still extremely important to acknowledge and respect the inherent hazards that are present in the death zone.


While there has been a certain degree of improvement in terms of safety and accessibility as a result of technological advancements and protective gear, the fundamental limitations that are imposed by the environment continue to exist nonetheless. When everything is said and done, the death zone serves as a harsh reminder of the resiliency and adaptability of life on Earth, as well as the importance of comprehending and respecting the natural limitations that govern human existence.

Does Mount Kilimanjaro count as a dangerous mountain with a death zone?

The peak of Mount Kilimanjaro is located at 5,895 meters (19,341 feet), which is a significant distance below the danger zone. Regardless, individuals who climb Kilimanjaro still need to exercise extreme caution due to the mountain’s elevation, which can result in severe altitude sickness and even death.


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