Roopkund Lake is tucked between two Himalayan peaks in India, and it attracts visitors from all over the planet. They don’t strap into their hiking boots and tackle the dangerous trek just to take a swim, though.
Instead, there’s a chilling reason that people dare gather around the edges of the shallow water and peer past the surface. The lake offers a “view” quite like any other, and so far, scientific explanations have offered no answer for the phenomena. Their studies have only further complicated our understanding of the body of water.
As with most water in freezing temperatures, Roopkund Lake is frozen solid for most months of the year. The small body of water measures only 135 feet wide and is 16,500 feet above sea level.
It’s no easy trek up the mountain to reach the lake. While the Himalayas seem like a supporting cast to the star that is Mount Everest, the truth is, Everest is only the 10th-deadliest mountain in the range.
Some mountain peaks in the range, though technically not as tall as Everest, have unsettling stats. Annapurna 1 and K2 have mortality rates between 29-32% each. So, you have to be either insane or somewhat superhuman to attempt the climb.
Up past 16,000 feet, the deadly forces of nature surround you. People who navigate the range can plan for a certain amount. Supplies, training and knowledge can take you far. But there’s certainly a lot that can’t be predicted.
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Roopkund Lake is one of those things. A wildcard variable that even the most experienced of climbers seem unable to reckon with. The most surprising thing is the scope of this mystery. It’s no modern anomaly.
A century ago, problems started to surface. Literally. In the summer months, while the ground surrounding the seemingly innocuous lake is still covered in snow, it begins to thaw slowly. As the ice melts from the surface, dark secrets rear from its shallow depths.
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If you were to take a dip in this particular lake, though you would never do so at risk of hypothermia, the bottom of your feet wouldn’t be greeted with rocks or gravel or any other standard lake foundation. Instead, your foot might brush against a human skull.
Himadri Sinha Roy
When Roopkund defrosts, bones come to the surface. Thousands and thousands of bones constituting the remains of a still untold number of individuals are visible beyond the surface of the water. This disturbing eccentricity earned Roopkund the nickname “Skeleton Lake.”
Local legends explain the bones easily. The story goes that the King of Kanauj and his pregnant wife, along with a dance troupe and their servants met their end from a hailstorm and perished near the lake. Scientists wanted to get to the bottom of it.
A recent study conducted by scientists from India, Germany, and the United States acquired and examined DNA from 38 different remains. The hope was to get a better understanding of who these people were and how they might have met their end.
The results of the study made every variable even more muddied than before. Geneticist Jennifer Raff from the University of Kansas described the new, “far richer view into the possible histories of this site.” Here’s what we know.
It was believed that the remains were all related and were most probably dumped at the same time, like a mass grave or possibly the scene of a peculiar weather event that led to their death. It turns out, the individuals were from across a millennium.
DNA results dated the some bones from the 7-10th century and others from the 17th century. Meaning that one set of remains existed lifetimes before another, though they all ended up there. Yet another bit of information made finding a reasonable explanation even more unlikely.
Pat and Baiba Morrow
The DNA showed that not only were the individuals unrelated, but they came from a variety of ethnic groups. Scientists narrowed it down to three categories: South Asian, East Asian and oddly, Mediterranean. Specifically, people from modern day Greece.
New information doesn’t lend itself to a logical narrative regarding the strange phenomena. All we know for sure is that centuries of people from across the world have met their end on the shores of Skeleton Lake with no explanation of how.
With no historical account of their journeys, only answers rooted in pure speculation remain. Some believe the lake’s proximity to a Hindu-pilgrim route could explain why some died there. But that doesn’t explain the Mediterranean presence.
They might have been unlucky explorers attempting to conquer the dangerous mountain range, or possibly people brought to the lake specifically for burial. Men, women, and children were all represented in the sample.
This is were the mystery stands. Even with the help of modern science, the mystery at Skeleton Lake seems like it will remain just that for the foreseeable future. Strangely, the site has become a tourist attraction for this very reason.
In the summer, people make the hike up to Roopkund to observe the bones of ancient people piled on one another unceremoniously on the bottom of the lake. The grim sight contrasts the tranquil, snowy landscape.
Surrounded by nothing but the harsh whisper of the Himalayan winds, hikers and tourists can develop their own theories about the remains, each as good as the other. It may as well be the King of Kanauj and his late wife at the bottom of the lake.
Even at the risk of becoming another set of bones in Skeleton Lake, traversing the most famous Himalayan peak aka Mt. Everest is an adrenaline junkie’s dream. Every year, hundreds of people attempt to make the 29,035-foot climb, but not everyone finds success.
Base camps are set up at specific points on the mountain for climbers to rest up before the next harrowing leg of the journey. High altitudes mean frigid temperatures, but that’s far from the only hazard climbers face.
Along with the constant bone-chilling wind gusts, there’s a severe lack of oxygen. Climbers wear oxygen tanks to avoid suffocating during the ascent. They also hang on to meticulously placed ropes to avoid the worst outcome of them all.
Slipping on the mountain means almost certain death. It can happen in the blink of an eye, and no one can do anything except watch you tumble down to your demise. Clearly, it takes a fearless mindset to scale the peak, and one particular Nepalese man has that — and more.
Born in 1970, Kami Rita knows Mt. Everest better than almost anyone in the world. He’s a seasoned climber who’s spent countless hours studying the terrifying terrain, finding the best ways to reach Everest’s summit.
If you ran into him on the street, you’d have no idea he was the type of person who could withstand the barrage of threatening elements Mt. Everest serves up. But, you also wouldn’t know he’s a Sherpa, which means he’s adept at handling the most extreme conditions imaginable.
Many years ago, well before Mt. Everest became a popular spot for thrill seekers, Sherpa tribespeople spent much of their time trading goods and herding yak deep within the Himilayan mountains.
The rugged living conditions gave the Sherpa incredible stamina and knowledge of the intense environment. So, when people began showing interest in scaling Everest, they were naturally the ones best suited to guide them.
Climbing the Goliath mountain would be an impossible feat without the supervision of Sherpas. Before each climbing season, they study the mountain to a T to devise the safest path possible to the top. Then they head out and plot the path themselves.
Using a complex network of ropes, anchors, and reinforced ladder-bridges, they lay out the path to the summit. The route changes every year, and Sherpas constantly risk their lives before they even lead their first group up. Nothing is more dangerous than “the death zone.”
“The death zone” is the portion of Everest that sits at such a high altitude there isn’t enough oxygen to breathe. Kami ensures every climber has a fully stocked tank ready to go. Reaching the top, however, also relies on a heavy spiritual practice according to Kami.
Sherpas believe a goddess inhabits every mountain, and to ensure a safe climb, those goddesses must be satisfied. Kami goes through an intense ritual long before each epic ascent.
“Months before I start an ascent I start worshiping and ask for forgiveness because I will have to put my feet on her body,” Kami said. He treats the mountains with the utmost respect, and that’s allowed him to do something most people can’t even fathom.
It seems impossible to believe, but Kami has reached the top of Mt. Everest a mindblowing 24 times! His first success was in 1994, and since then, he’s been at the helm of tons of expeditions.
Kami is known as somewhat of a celebrity when it comes to Mt. Everest, and for good reason. There was one week he climbed it twice. Craziest of all, Everest isn’t the only mountain this champion conquered.
He also climbed the second highest mountain behind Everest, K2 (left), and the world’s sixth highest mountain, Cho-Oyu (right). Along with media attention, Kami’s received plenty of other rewards for his efforts.
He’s received plaques and money for his amazing work! In 2018, he was earning about $10,000 per climb because of his experience. He makes a good living, but there’s one person in his life who doesn’t exactly love his line of work.
His wife, Lakpa, fears for his safety every time. She said, “I keep telling him we could look for other jobs, start a small business.” Kami, however, is passionate about climbing life, although both said they wanted safer professions for their two children.
At 49 years of age, Kami still feels great and thinks he has several more years of climbing in him. “I am healthy,” he said. “I can keep going until I am 60 years old.” With his track record, it doesn’t sound like that will be a problem.
As thrilling as completing an epic bucket-list goal like Mt. Everest is, as a beginner, it’s imperative you have someone like Kami with you to prevent a tragedy. However, even seasoned climbers can run into trouble, and not just on Mt. Everest.
If you asked free-climber Brad Parker’s closest friends about him, they would all sing similar praises: he had a gift with people. He was one of those gems everyone just gravitated to — he was larger than life.
Brad Parker / Facebook
And it was easy to see why. After finishing up high school in 1996, the Santa Rosa, California, native traveled the world. He passed through Indonesia, New Zealand, and more, and jumped head first into any extreme sport he could find.
Brad Parker / Facebook
In his thirties, he catapulted himself into the upper-echelons of rock climbers, earning a cover spot on California Climber magazine in 2012. On the side, he taught yoga — his energy and enthusiasm captivated even those he barely knew.
Brad Parker / Facebook
“Rock climbers knew him as [an awesome] climber,” Brad’s best friend and climbing partner Jerry Dodrill said. “Surfers knew him as [an awesome] surfer, and yoga instructors knew him as an amazing yoga instructor.”
Brad’s friends, family, and even minor acquaintances were delighted in June 2014, when the 36-year-old let his friends and family on social media know the truth: he was in love with a girl named Jainee Dial.
Brad Parker / Facbook
Jainee managed an online store that sold outdoor adventure products to women, and she faced life with a similar enthusiasm as Brad. In fact, two months after Brad’s Facebook post, the couple set out for Yosemite National Park.
Jainee Dial / Facebook
And though Jainee didn’t know it, the ever-smiling, always-excited Brad planned a surprise for her there. He unveiled it on a Saturday morning climb to the summit of Cathedral Peak — a 10,912-foot mountain.
Jainee Dial / Facebook
Using ropes, the couple ambled upwards for a few hours before reaching the narrow peak of the mountain. There, on a piece of rock just big enough for two people to stand on, Brad lowered himself to one knee and asked Jainee to marry him.
For nearly 40 years, Brad chased every thrill he could find, but chances were, his heart never beat harder or faster than in the split-second silence following his proposal. To his delight, Jainee said “yes.”
Minutes later, as the two descended the mountain, Brad told her, “this is the happiest day of my life.” And though Brad didn’t know it, that moment of pure elation that followed the couple’s commitment to marriage was the moment his life peaked…
…because once they reached the base of the mountain, the climber caught an itch — an itch to climb another mountain. So while Jainee headed back to camp, Brad hiked to Matthes Crest, a massive ridge just three miles away.
In hindsight, it wasn’t unexpected that Brad left his fiancé to climb again — he’d been training for a major climb he planned for the future. But as he hiked up towards Matthes Crest, other hikers noticed something was off about the man.
One of those hikers, Cedric Ma, saw Brad on his way to the crest. “He said he was dehydrated and had cramps,” Cedric wrote. “After that, he continued to solo up the north summit and disappeared from view.”
Nevertheless, cramped, dehydrated, and likely fatigued from climbing earlier in the day at high altitudes, Brad tackled the vertical face of Matthes Crest. At about 5:45 p.m. — hours after his proposal — Brad slipped.
Other climbers and hikers in the area watched from afar as the experienced climber and soon-to-be-wed man fell 300 feet from the top of the ridge. He hit the rocky ground below with a thud. Then, there was silence.
This silence was not like the momentary one that followed Brad’s proposal to Jainee. This was the silence of death, total and deafening, a finite sort of thing broken only by the park rangers when they hiked in to recover Brad’s body.
By the time rangers found Brad, it was too late for the helicopter to fly in for extraction. They left him there overnight, and in the morning, they removed him from the park. Soon, word spread to all of Brad’s friends and family.
There was little solace to take in Brad’s death, but still, as Brad himself would’ve done, his loved ones turned the meaninglessness of his demise into something beautiful. They spread his ashes around the California coast — and more.
As time passed, Brad’s friends found more ways to honor their friend. The memorial service for Brad featured a “paddle out” into the Russian River Mouth near Jenner, California. There, Jainee and Brad’s mother mourned together.
And when the wounds healed further, those close to Brad ventured into Yosemite. Together, they climbed Cathedral Peak, the place where Brad enjoyed the happiest moment of his action-packed life. That moment with Jainee.
Jainee Dial / Facebook
It wasn’t until later, when the pain of the moment didn’t sting so deep, that Jainee sat down and reflected, recording her thoughts in a 2016 Facebook post. “To Brad Parker,” she wrote. “It’s so bittersweet. So brutal. And yet, so precious and true…”
Jainee Dial / Facebook
She continued. “You not only live on in me but continue to live on in others and give them life. And not only life, but that great consciousness of life that reminds us what truly matters…You continue to give me life. And what an awful, stinging irony that is.”