MOUNT EVEREST — WORLD’S HIGHEST AND MOST DEADLY OPEN GRAVEYARD

Mount Everest is the world’s tallest peak. At 29,029 feet—8,848 meters—Everest looms in the Himalayan sky at the border of Tibet and Nepal. Its massive height makes Everest the holy grail of mountaineering. Since conquered by humans in 1953, Mount Everest has been summited over 7,000 times by nearly 4,000 adventurers. But 292 died during this treacherous climb and 200 of their bodies can’t be recovered. They still remain—lying open on the rocks, ice and snow of this high, deadly graveyard.

Most climbers killed on Mount Everest perish in the Death Zone. It’s that dangerous place in the stratosphere above 8,000 meters (26,247 feet) where the air is so thin that oxygen levels are insufficient to support human life. In the Death Zone, there’s less than one-third of life-sustaining oxygen than at sea level. Human beings simply aren’t designed to go where an Airbus A380 cruises. That prolonged oxygen deficiency quickly guarantees death.

Every mountaineer prepares for high-altitude climbs knowing the perils associated with a lack of oxygen. But they still go there. We’ll discuss their motivation but first, let’s examine what physiologically happens when a climber suffers Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Several things occur.

Without sufficient oxygen, your lungs can’t oxygenate red blood cells. That’s vital for delivering hemoglobin-rich blood through pulmonary and tissue capillaries. This supports mitochondria in your cells. Without oxygenated blood, your cells slowly die and complications set in. You’ll develop High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) as well as High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). Your lungs and brain will bleed and fill with fluid. It’s like suffocating and suffering a traumatic brain injury at the same time.

Some climbers experience HAPE and HACE quickly. In others, it comes on slowly. But the symptoms and effects are the same with all. First to come are a shortage of breath accompanied by nausea and a headache. Vision blurs. Judgment is impaired. Extremities become cold and painful. Confusion and disorientation follow. Finally, the climber becomes exhausted and lays down to die.

Although HACE and HAPE are primary contributors to death, the actual mechanism is the cessation of brain function due to cerebral hemorrhage or cardiac arrest. It might be a chicken or egg situation but one thing’s for sure—AMS is impossible to treat without restoring oxygen. That means taking the ill climber to lower elevations or supplying them with an artificial oxygen supply.

This is far more difficult than it sounds. The Death Zone on Everest sits in that 2,782 foot (848 meters) range between Camp IV—the last point of human habitation—and the summit. In the Death Zone, you’re on your own if something goes wrong. There’s simply no way to pack an unconscious or disoriented climber down. It’s not at all practical to rescue them with auxiliary oxygen. That’s why nearly all the deaths occur in that small stretch on that big mountain. And that’s why their bodies stay exposed in that deadly zone.

There are so many open dead bodies in the high reaches of Mount Everest—they’ve taken on names of their own. Ghoulishly, active climbers pass by frozen and mummified corpses of fallen comrades. They step around them and over them in tight places like the Hillary Step and the Lhotse face. They look down on the open graveyard called Rainbow Valley named for brightly-colored mountaineering suits still cladding dozens of dead strewn about the crevasse.

Certain bodies are assigned names—gruesome as it seems. Green Boots is a landmark. He’s called that because of neon green climbing boots still on his outstretched feet while the rest of him lays frozen in the fetal position under a limestone outcrop. The area is so narrow anyone summiting Everest on the northeast route must step over his green boots on their way up. And on their way down.

Sitting Man is another famous corpse. There’s a sad story behind him. This unfortunate soul fell ill to AMS after courageously making the top. On his way down, this British climber progressively fell into the fate of HACE and HAPE. He was with fellow climbers who left him alone to succumb from a lack of oxygen and exposure to elements. Mountaineers from other international parties passed up and down beside Sitting Man. Everyone saw this man sitting in peril as he slowly passed on. But no one assisted because on Everest—in the Death Zone—you’re on your own when something goes wrong.

A woman climber from America became known as Sleeping Beauty from her immortal climbing accident. She’d separated from her climbing partner during a descent in bad weather. Disoriented, she stopped in the Death Zone, waiting too long. Her body stays stretched on her back alongside the trail where her brown hair waves in the wind and her lifeless eyes stare openly up at the heavens.

The most famous dead body still lying open in Everest’s lofty graveyard is George Mallory. He’s been there since 1924 when Mallory and Andrew Irvine died in the Death Zone. History records that Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, are officially credited with being the first people to reach Everest’s summit in 1953 but there’s good reason to believe that 29 years earlier, Mallory and Irvine beat them to it.

Unfortunately, neither Irvine nor Mallory returned to tell the tale. They stayed near the summit and perished into eternity until one day in 1999, a group of experienced mountain adventurers stumbled upon George Mallory’s mummified cadaver lying face down on an open rock slide near the Death Zone. It appears he fell during his descent. Mallory was still in recognizable condition and his effects were mostly intact. His camera was never found. That might have contained confirming summit photos but something else was missing. Mallory promised he’d leave his wife’s photo on top of Mount Everest. His wallet was in his pocket and contained all documents except for the photo of his wife.

Since Hillary and Norgay summited in 1953, Everest has been a Mecca for mountaineers. There is so much demand for climbing positions that the governments of China (representing Tibet) and Nepal restrict permits. Still, there’s an overcrowding of space in this lucrative business. Climbers come from all over the world to compete for conditions on Mount Everest. And yearly, about 7.6 percent of them die. That figure grows each year.

Although most Everest climbing deaths happen in the Death Zone, there are many fatal accidents in the lower reaches. It’s partly due that assaults on Everest normally take place in 5 stages. This is a proven strategy. Practically every guided group follows this pattern.

  • Stage 1 is Basecamp. It’s at 5,270 meters (17,290 feet) and groups spend days if not weeks here preparing to ascend. Part of the reason is to acclimatize their bodies to compensate for the lower oxygen levels already found at this height. Acclimatization is hugely effective in delaying the effects of acute mountain sickness.
  • Stage 2 reaches Camp I. This elevation is 6,035 meters (19,799 feet). Climbers sometimes spend a few days further acclimatizing at Camp I before pushing on.
  • Stage 3 is called Camp II. Now they’re at 6,474 meters (21,240 feet) where the air is really starting to thin. Most climbers bivouac overnight and move up.
  • Stage 4 is Camp III at 7,158 meters (23,484 feet). There’s no time to waste in this oxygen depleted place. It’s a spot to rest, eat and hydrate.
  • Stage 5 is the last stop before summiting. Camp IV is at 7906 meters (25,938 feet). It’s just 94 meters (309 feet) short of the Death Zone. Here climbers spend little time as possible. They’re waiting for a weather or time window—making a break for the top.

 

Descending Everest doesn’t take the same stops. Depending on climate conditions as well as the climber’s physical state, they make multiple descent camps in one day. But descending has problems with pressurization. Descents made too fast brings on physical symptoms similar to acute mountain sickness. Quick, uncontrolled descents cause bad judgment leading to accidental death.

Despite the perils of AMS, HACE and HAPE, these contributors only account for a small amount of direct causes of death on Mount Everest. Statistics indicate accidents are by far the leading cause of Everest’s climbing deaths.

  • 29 percent are due to avalanches.
  • 27 percent are other causes like wind shear and equipment failure.
  • 23 percent are from falls.
  • 11 percent are the result of exposure and freezing.
  • 10 percent are directly related to acute mountain sickness.

So with the high odds of being killed on Mount Everest and bodies being left exposed in this high and open graveyard, why do so many adventurers want to risk their lives taking chances in the Death Zone?

That’s tough to answer. Each climber has personal reasons. Some are natural risk takers and thrill seekers. They want to push their envelope. For some, it’s all about ego and bragging rights. Some might be naïve. They simply don’t know what they’re getting into. If you have the money, you can buy a ticket up Everest.

Some dedicated climbers are motivated by business. Local Sherpas depend on guiding novice Everest guests. They’re well-paid, their local economy thrives on the mountain and they’ve been doing it for years. That’s why the greatest percentage—by far—of victim nationality is Nepalese. Most of them die in accidents, not AMS, as their physiology makes them much better suited to functioning in high-altitude environments.

Then some mountaineers are motivated by a macabre sense of brushing the face of death. They may have personal fears to conquer—something to prove to themselves or others. Perhaps they don’t think it’ll happen to them. Being surrounded by danger is a fix. It’s something an adrenaline junkie craves. Maybe for a few, they enjoy being suicidal. Climbing Everest is like loading one round in a revolver, spinning the cylinder, putting the barrel in your mouth and pulling the trigger. If you survive, then climbing Mount Everest was probably a good idea.

But maybe the real reason why people climb mountains like Everest was best summed by George Mallory himself. Asked why he wanted to do it, Mallory said, “Because it’s there.”

THE GUY ON THE GREYHOUND BUS

There’s intense interest around girl-train thrillers. Paula Hawkins’ The Girl On The Train sold millions of copies. Now it’s a motion picture. The girl-trend started with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Then The Girl in the Ice by indie author Robert Bryndza took off. The girl-list goes on. The Girl You Lost, Girl In The Dark, The Good Girl and, of course, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series come to mind. I haven’t read them but respect the girls have done well in crime fiction.

But what about guys? And what about true crime? Especially true crime with a horror twist starring a demon straight outa Stephen King’s head. Have you heard about The Guy on the Greyhound Bus? The story where the psycho stabbed a sleeping bus passenger 100 times then cut off his head and paraded it like a carnival prize before gutting him and eating his eyes and his heart before the crowd? Well, it’s true. Now this deranged killer is scott-free because he was found not criminally responsible simply because he was a schizophrenic who wasn’t on pills.

I’m going to tell you the nearly unspeakable story of The Guy on the Greyhound Bus. It’s not to shock you with gory details, though there’s enough to go around. It’s really about victim and family rights as opposed to the killer’s. It’s also about what’s wrong with a broken criminal justice (legal) system and the strange world of forensic psychiatry. And it’s about proper public protection.

This gruesome murder happened on a bus loaded with 38 passengers. It was July 30, 2008. The Guy On The Greyhound Bus was Vince Weiguang Li, a 40-year-old Chinese immigrant to Canada who left Edmonton, Alberta eastbound for Winnipeg in the Province of Manitoba. The innocent and unsuspecting victim was Tim McLean, 22, a carnival worker heading home for a break. Around 8:30 pm, Greyhound 1170 was an hour west of Winnipeg on the TransCanada Highway. That’s when hellish horror happened.

The Greyhound made a rest stop about a half hour earlier. Vince Li was sitting near the front. He got off, had a smoke, then reboarded. Now Li moved toward the back. Carefully, he looked at each passenger before reaching the second row from the rear. Tim McLean sat on the passenger side by the window. The aisle seat beside him was vacant.

Li turned and made eye contact. Tim smiled. He motioned an invite to the seat. Li slowly sat down. Then Tim leaned back against the window with his headphones on and drifted off to sleep. Other passengers described Li as unremarkable—up to this point. He’d been quiet and distant. Now, a passenger across the aisle saw Li’s behavior change. He fidgeted, starting a low Chinese chant. Without warning—Li pulled a Bowie knife from his pack. He lunged it to sleeping Tim’s neck.

Tim let a blood-curdling scream. He tried to fight back. But Li didn’t go into a frenzy. Rather—as shocked, gasping witnesses described—Li robotically plunged the blade into Tim’s shoulders, neck and chest. Over and over and over. Terrified passengers screamed for the bus to stop and massed for the door. Now Li had Tim on the aisle floor, still plunging and plunging.

The driver braked the Greyhound to an emergency halt. Everyone bailed off except for Li. Tim was clearly dead but Li wasn’t even close to finished. Petrified passengers stood outside as traffic whizzed by. Aghast, they stared as Li sawed and hacked. Then Li stood. Blood-dripping knife in one hand. Tim’s severed head by the hair in the other.

Women shrieked. Men puked. Little kids cried as teens tried capturing it on phones. Then Li, expressionless behind sunglasses, came for the door—presenting Tim’s decapitated head. Presence of mind from the driver prevented Li’s escape into the crowd. He blocked the door but police were miles away. A passing trucker gave men in the group tools as weapons in case the psycho got out.

Li paraded Tim’s lifeless head—back and forth—up and down—along the parked Greyhound’s aisle. Then he went back to work. Li opened Tim’s chest and tore at his organs. He removed Tim’s heart, lungs and liver then ripped out entrails. Every piece of Tim’s body was defiled and strewn about the bus. But it got even worse.

Right in full view of the audience, Li digested Tim’s eyes and part of his heart. He cut off Tim’s nose and both of his ears, smelling them and licking blood from his fingers. But Li came prepared for this slaughter. Not only did he have the knife—he also had plastic bags to store separated items—packaging pieces for some future purpose. Part Jeffrey Dahmer. Part Norman Bates. Vince Li carried on.

Police and emergency responders arrived in mass. They contained the scene and attempted to reason with Li. It was senseless. Li continued to dissect Tim’s body and present parts for four hours. Arm-chair Swat members later crucified police for not shooting Li to stop his butchering rampage but the police held at bay. They tried to negotiate with the crazy man holding a knife. But you simply can’t kill a deranged man in this situation.

Without warning, Vince Li made a break for freedom. He smashed out a window and leaped to the ground meeting jolts from a Taser and teeth from a dog. Li was cuffed and it was over. The standoff, that is.

The crime scene was processed and witnesses were isolated. They took Li to a secure hospital. He’d also been injured in his attack—standard police procedure even for as bizarre a crime as this. But the aftermath was awful.

Bus passengers were severely traumatized. Some haven’t recovered today. That includes emergency personnel and professional people who were present and exposed to this trauma. But the biggest sufferers were Tim McLean’s family. They lost their loving son, brother, cousin and nephew. Friends lost a guy who’d give them the shirt off his back never mind a laugh from their innards. None of them ever got justice.

Tim McLean was an innocent young man. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and a victim of circumstances much like the pedestrian creamed in a crosswalk by a drunk. Looking back, there were strands of fate bringing these two men together on that Greyhound bus. But could it be prevented?

Let’s look at Vince Li.

Vince Li was born and raised in China. He earned a degree in computer science then immigrated to Canada in 2001. He settled in Winnipeg and worked in Edmonton. Over time, Li’s marriage declined and they separated. Li had one brush with police for peculiar behavior. Records are sketchy about his mental assessments. Seems he was an undiagnosed schizophrenic not prescribed the right meds. Nor was he taking any when he boarded the Greyhound bus.

Li held minimal paying jobs at Walmart and did paper deliveries. He reclused like so many mentally-ill people do. Li was fired in Edmonton after a strange interpersonal altercation. That caused him to board the Greyhound for Winnipeg. He had no family, no friends, no support and no supervision. Vince Li was a ticking bomb.

Does that excuse his psychotic and dangerous criminal behavior?

Vince Li moved through the justice system quickly. The Guy on the Greyhound Bus got international attention. It wasn’t only the dramatics. There were plenty. This case opened a Pandora’s Box containing the issue of long-term criminal responsibility by the mentally ill.

In the early stages, everyone in authority agreed Vince Li wasn’t operating in a normal mindset. The police. The prosecutor. The defense. The psychiatrists. Even the judge. No one argued that. They were quick to form a conclusion without exploring the entire circumstances in a full and open trial. But Tim’s family had no input. No one in authority listened to what impact this brutal murder had on Tim’s family and friends, not to mention traumatized witnesses on the bus.

It’s the overall picture that’s never been put to rest. That includes whether it was conclusively proven that Li was out of his mind and had no concept of what he was doing to Tim was wrong. It’s also the overall concepts of punishment, holding an offender accountable no matter what their mental state and ensuring the public is properly protected from future danger.

Then there’s respect and support of victims. Vince Li spared Tim McLean’s family a lengthy trial. Li claimed he was not criminally responsible due to mental illness and the court bought it without calling traumatized witnesses and family members. They relied on expert opinions from forensic psychiatric witnesses who were clinically detached from the scene.

Judgment passed that Li was not criminally responsible for Tim’s murder due to psychosis caused by untreated schizophrenia. He was quickly locked up in a secure hospital facility where monitoring and treatment commenced for an indefinite period. Untold time and money were spent in “rehabilitating” Vince Li. They put him on medication and under various therapies. They even helped Li change his name to Will Baker.

But nothing was done for Tim McLean’s family or the traumatized people who watched Vince Li butcher Tim. There was little regard for the public’s protection that Li—now Will Baker—would be permanently locked up like the law should allow. It was left to the “system” to deal with Vince Li. That system is made of people. And people are flawed.

Here’s where the system is flawed. It’s made of people with law degrees and medical degrees. Particularly psychiatric degrees. These guys can get crazier than The Guy on the Greyhound Bus.

There’s something brain-draining about academics. It’s like they’ve never ridden a bus filled with the common folks they’re supposed to serve. A lack of mental clarity runs from psychiatric assessments to criminal verdicts to appellate decisions to legislative changes. The Vince Li—Tim McLean case is no exception.

On March 5, 2009—seven months after Li took Tim’s life—Vince Li was found not criminally responsible due to a mental illness. He was shipped to a secure treatment facility. Most of the polled public agreed this was the right decision. Like, how could someone kill and dismember a stranger on a bus be in their right mind? Warehouse Li, they agreed. Keep us safe from guys on the bus like him. He’s crazy. Just never let him out.

The shrinks saw it different. And lawmakers had little control.

When the criminal court system washed their hands of Vince Li, the mental health system took over. Their mandate is to recover someone, not to punish or deter them. Public protection is low on their scale. Success in mental health is measured by restoring someone to a healthy state and maintaining it. That’s a noble goal for psychiatry but a dangerous gamble for society.

Once they got Vince Li in the system, the experts went to work. There are extensive videos and transcripts available on hours and hours of a forensic psychiatrist interviewing Li and trying to get inside his head. “God made me do it,” Li said. “I was an evil son of an evil god. God chose me as the killer and God chose Tim as the victim. God controls all things and God made me do it.”

It took a bit to get Vince Li’s medication right and stabilize him. He wasn’t in a normal, functioning state of mind when he killed Tim McLean. But he wasn’t truly out of it. Vince Li knew exactly what he was doing and he remembered it. He described Tim’s gruesome murder detail-by-detail to his forensic psychiatric team just as a serial killer confesses to detectives.

You can argue lack of intent due to mental incapacity all day long. It’s bullshit. Vince Li got on that Greyhound prepared to kill. He bought that knife and he bought those plastic bags well in advance. Li now looked for an opportunity to use them. No matter what his mental state was, that showed planning and premeditation. Li wanted a victim and Tim McLean was it.

Something to consider about killers—they can be very, very good actors. Famous killers like Gacy and Bianchi were masterful manipulators. They told investigators and profilers exactly what they wanted to hear. Li might be a small player in the world of murders but he’s not unusual. There are many dangerous offenders warehoused in mental institutions. But there are few who did what Vince Li did to Tim McLean.

Now that Vince Li was out of the courts and jails, he was in the care of mental health care workers. Li was controlled and they adjusted his medication. They got him to function in an apparently normal state and began testing his response to freedom by slowly integrating him back into society. It was their mandate. Public protection was not.

By June of 2010—15 months after Li was absolved by the criminal justice system—he started supervised release. Two years later, he began unsupervised leave from the hospital but only for short periods. Bit by bit, Vince Li was put back on the street. By 2015, Li was in a half-way house and only monitored for medication. Finally, on February 10, 2017 Vince Lee was declared completely stable and reliable to function on his own, including regulating his own meds—even though all psychiatrists agree schizophrenia is an incurable mental disease.

A forensic psychiatrist was quoted saying at Lee’s release hearing that, in his opinion, Li “had only a 0.8% chance of relapsing”. How in the world he came up with that figure is beyond me. Maybe he moonlights as an actuary. That’s the flaw in the judiciary/psychiatric system. They put far too much weight in academic opinions and not enough on what actually occurred. And what can potentially occur. It’s the lunatics running the asylum.

Today, Vince Li is a free man. There’s no system oversight. He’s not accountable for his crime in any way. It’s exactly like it never happened. That’s plain wrong.

The flaw in the criminal legal (not justice) system is there’s no respect for victims like Tim McLean and his family. This “not criminally responsible due to a mental disability” loophole goes too far. There has to be some permanent restraint put on potentially dangerous people who prove they’re capable of violent acts.

The flaws disrespect protection of society. They neglect victim and family rights. Carol de Delley is Tim McLean’s mother. She’ll never get over this. Carol and Tim’s father, Tim McLean Sr. never got to say goodbye to their son—his body was completely unviewable.

“Li has an incurable disease that makes him do terrible things,” Carol says. “I believe he needs to be in an institution that addresses those needs. I don’t think it matters if you’re mentally ill or not. If you kill someone, you should lose your freedom. Period.”

To the average citizen, this case is more than a tragedy. It’s a travesty. How the public should be forced to take a chance on an unsupervised nut who committed the most barbaric act of public murder and cannibalism I’ve ever heard of is plain stupid. It’s too high a risk.

The shrinks disagree.

Vince Li is free on the street. He has no family, no friends, no support and no supervision. Li is a ticking time bomb.

THE SOUND OF SILENCE

Like timeless novels, there’s classic storytelling through song lyrics. Simon & Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence is a perfect example of timeless lyrics. They remain in peoples’ brains because the message universally resonates, no matter who sings them. And every artist has their own delivery — their unique voice — just as novel writers do. Here are the lyrics to Sound of Silence. Follow along as five outstanding — and totally different — renditions of Sound of Silence are performed.

*   *   *

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

In restless dreams, I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

Fools, said I, you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed To the neon god they made

And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sound of silence

This is as good as songwriting gets. Put on your headphones or earbuds and listen to how these amazing artists break the sound of silence.

*   *   *

Simon & Garfunkel Original Cut – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4zLfCnGVeL4

Jayden Raylee Cover – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWtvP6FeDJI

Nouela Cover https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4oInT79CUk

Disturbed Cover – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bk7RVw3I8eg

Simon & Garfunkel Reunion https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-JQ1q-13Ek