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Everest – What’s behind the numbers?

“Everest – a challenge for some, a final destination for others” a visualization in Tableau that taught me much more than if statements, best practices or context filters.

After watching the movie ‘Everest’ (highly recommended) it was apparent to me how little my knowledge was in relation to the Mount Everest and the people ‘linked’ to it. It made sense that I should look into it and grab the opportunity to transform the new acquired knowledge into data visualization. A win- win situation where I could simultaneously learn about Everest, data visualization and use of Tableau software.

The first difficulty I came across was how hard it was to find data and collect it; I was going through pages and pages of overpowering stories and realities, but none was a database where I could source my data from, at least not in a straightforward way. After much research and factual comparison, I was finally able to collect data from different sites and personal testimonies. By doing so, I realised that the aim of my visualization would not only be to acknowledge the people that summited, but also the ones that succumbed while trying to reach their goals – the people behind the numbers.

It was then time to transfer all that information into dashboards, which I did by using two time related dashboards in Tableau. The first one with: the summit numbers, the names of climbers that summited, their nationality and gender, the route taken and if they used bottled oxygen or not. The second dashboard would then show: the numbers of the fallen, their names, nationalities and genders, the altitudes where they were last seen (ascending or descending), causes of death and the number of bodies that were recovered or not (click on the image below to interact with the viz)

Those two dashboards were then linked via a dashboard action allowing the viewers to jump from one to another by clicking in one specific image (shape chart).

Everest (2)

Also a bubble chart and the pages in the pages shelf, gave the possibility to the viewers to see the number of summits throughout the years with one simple click of a button (unfortunately, later I realised that the animation does not work in Tableau Public 😦 ).

The all process, from conception to execution was arduous, but greatly rewarding nonetheless.

If like me you are now taking your first steps in the data visualization journey and you don’t know where to start, just find a subject that is meaningful to you, download the free Tableau software (check the videos), visualize your data, share with the community in the Tableau Public and let the magic happen 🙂

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and if you are interested in knowing what made me look into the Everest data, please carry on reading.

Mount Everest is considered the highest mountain in the World, standing at 8848m above sea level and growing 4mm every year due to the movement of Tectonic Plates. It is in its own right a supreme symbol of triumph and defeat, attracting countless worldwide mountaineers with a common desire of conquest and adventure.  The Nepalese and Tibetan culture, Sherpa traditions, Buddhism, majestic Yaks, and Yeti legends entices human curiosity and adds flavour to the Everest’s mystique, drawing climbers to spend small fortunes and to risk their lives in the pursuit of a summit  that is above all the others. Unfortunately, for many the mountain takes its upper hand on the struggle of Man vs Mountain and claims lives unkindly.

Temperatures plummeting to -60°C, never-ending crevasses and house-size blocks of ice tumbling down the glacier are just some of the hardships that climbers have to surpass during their two months expeditions. In addition to the diminished lung capacity and inhospitable conditions of the ‘Death Zone’ (above 8,000m of altitude) hikers are constantly reminded of how cruel the climb can be. Bodies of many succumbed fellow climbers are now frozen in time, lying in crevasses, buried under avalanche snow or exposed on catchment basin slopes. Macabre reminders that often have to be passed over by hikers or as the ‘Green Boots’ used as reference points on the mountain. While   the majority of people would be overwhelmed by the idea of crossing paths with exposed mummified corpses, the mountaineers see it as a tragic event that is unavoidable.

The chances are that if a climber dies in the Everest, his body will be left behind. Many even sign disclosing papers stating their wish to be left behind in case of death. The conditions are far too dangerous for other hikers to bring the bodies down and the air rarefaction makes it impossible for ‘rescue helicopters’ to operate. Several recovery team members have indeed lost their lives when trying to recuperate bodies. Sadly the same applies to when a climber gets into trouble; by trying to help or assist other climbers, one can be putting his/ her life at risk. Numerous are the stories, filled with controversial facts of dying climbers being left behind by passing mountaineers. Heart-breaking accounts that make us think on the ‘survival of the fittest’ theory, though in the Everest luck and preparedness play a strong part on one’s survival.

It is estimated that more than 150 bodies still lie on the mountain; on the Northeast Ridge Route, the ‘Rainbow Valley’ gained its nickname due to the colourful snowsuits of the many fallen.  The number of corpses in combination with the tons of litter left behind by hikers, as well as being a health concern (all climbers use the ice as a source of water) it has also become an environmental issue that the government is now trying to tackle.

Taking into consideration all the facts that in a way tint the Everest image, why do climbers still want to trek Everest?

For the international climbers the reasons are more than many but for the local sherpas and porters that: carry hefty loads of equipment on their backs and are the ice-doctors and guides of expeditions, climbing the Everest several times a day and risking their lives in hazardous tasks is the only way to provide for their families or send their children to school in a country where the average salary is £67.28 a month.


Interesting facts:

  1. The death zone is above 8,000m where oxygen is insufficient to sustain human life (25% that of sea level). 848m of Everest is in the death zone. Simple tasks as hiking 1mile can take up to twelve hours

  2. Two main routes:the Southeast Ridge from Nepal (easier and more popular) and the North Ridge from Tibet, China

  3. Nepal earthquake endangered the sherpas sustainability

  4. Ecological burden: more than 120 tons, that include: oxygen tanks, tents, and other kit

  5. Death rate: around 1/15 for summit attempts

  6. Oldest male climber to summit:80 year old Yuichiro Miura from Japan in 2013

  7. Oldest female climber to summit:73 year old Tamae Watanabe, from Japan in 2012.

  8. Youngest climber to summit:13 year old girl Malavath Purna from India in 2014

  9. Average expedition cost to summit:30,000 USD per person including sherpas; permits and oxygen bottles are at an extra cost as well as if you declare that in case of death you want your body to be recovered

  10. Traffic: you can find human traffic during your trek, sometimes waiting times can be up to 2h under extreme weather conditions

  11. Crevasses: the ice-doctors lay and secure steel ladders joined by climbing ropes, so climbers can cross the deadly crevasses

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