Everest: The Hillary Step Collapses

Everest: The Hillary Step Collapses
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The famous Hillary Step on the South Col route is gone, and why that's important

Bibek Bhattacharya
May 23 , 2017
02 Min Read

We're smack in the middle of the 2017 Everest season, and it's already shaping up to be a big one. To date, over a 100 people have summited the world's highest mountain from both Nepal's South Col route and Tibet's North Face route . This year's climbs already includes the first ascent by a visually impaired person, an aborted speed climb, many Indian ascents and, adding to the excitement, a would-be climber who was operating without a permit was arrested by Nepalese authorities. There have also been, sadly, six deaths, including that of an Indian climber, Ravi Kumar.

While the summit pushes are in full swing, the most intriguing piece of news to come out so far is the report that the famous Hillary Step, a formidable rocky outcrop just under the main summit on the South Col route has collapsed, possibly due to the devastating earthquake of 2015.

Two years earlier, soon after the earthquake struck Nepal, there had been reports that Everest had shifted by 3 cm due to the severity of the tremblor. While that might appear pretty small, imagine the world's tallest mountain shifting by over an inch?

Everest by moonlight

When climbing resumed in 2016, there were a few stray reports from mountaineers that the rocks from the Hillary Step might be missing.  This was countered by Sherpas who insisted that it's just that the Step was covered in excessive snow. This year, the controversy has reared its head again, and people are sitting up and taking notice.

The Hillary Step

Why is a 12m high rocky outcrop so important? Simply put, it is the final obstacle that all climbers on the popular South Col route have to negotiate before a clear path to the summit opens up. Its a vertical rocky outcrop, and scaling it at over 28,000 feet is not child's play. Over the years, this stretch has caused massive bottlenecks, with climbers waiting in cue to go up while those who have already summited wait to come down. At a stage when most oxygen bottles are running low, the Step posed a formidable hurdle. It was named after Edmund Hillary, who free-climbed it during his and Tenzing Norgay's maiden successful climb of Everest in 1953. Here's what Hillary had to say about this mountaineering obstacle

 

For some years now, two permanent metal ladders had been lashed to the Step, one for those going up, and the other for those descending from the summit. Right now, due to excessive snow, a temporary snow ridge has formed in that area, which climbers are using to 'bypass' the step. However, if the snow were to subside, and the Step were found to be really gone, then this would result in an even larger bottleneck, imperilling the lives of everyone on the south side of Everest.  


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