Last year, about four thousand people successfully scaled Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world. It isn’t the hardest climb in the world, or the longest, but it is the highest. And that’s all anybody cares about. Many alpinists see its apex as a rite of passage into the elite group of Hillarians, and I suppose it is.
It takes twelve days just to get to base camp. Over the next several weeks, a prospective summiter must wait at successive camps for a certain amount of time, allowing their bodies to adjust to the new atmosphere before they can continue on.
An experienced hiker knows when to turn back. Anyone blinded by what the zenith represents does not. So while those four thousand completed their goal, and two thousand more started the ascent but gave up and turned back before finishing. Other than these adherers to caution, over six hundred determined explorers from all over the world died on the route to the pinnacle. Even as it became obvious there was no favourable outcome, they refused to quit. Supplies dwindling and conditions worsening, still they continued their attempts, only to have their frozen deoxygenated bodies rest indefinitely in the middle of the path.
The Nepalese government, to ensure that surmounting Everest remains a worthwhile attraction, employs two of its mountain men to retrieve the vessels that once contained these unfortunate souls. I am one of these men. I am the corpse collector, my partner and best friend just died beside me, and I can’t go on.