MAY 22, 2017 1:22 PM PDT

Has Everest's Hillary Step Disappeared?

There has been some debate around whether the Hillary Step, the 12-meter rocky outcrop that sits 8,790 meters above sea level right before Mount Everest’s peak, has collapsed. Although some Sherpa have denounced the assertion that the Step has disappeared, saying that it is merely hidden beneath snow, several mountaineers are certain that it is gone, having fallen victim to Nepal’s 2015 earthquake.

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The step was named after New Zealand's Edmund Hillary, who, with local Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, was the first to successfully summit the mountain in 1953.

Last year the American Himalayan Foundation posted pictures that showed a change in the Step’s shape. And this year British mountaineer Tim Mosedale confirmed that change after he summitted on May 16. “It was reported last year, and indeed I climbed it last year, but we weren’t sure for certain that the step had gone because the area was blasted with snow. This year, however, I can report that the chunk of rock named the Hillary Step is definitely not there anymore,” Mosedale said.

British mountaineer Kenton Cool took this photo of the Step last year, he said it looked "different". Photo: Kenton Cool

Many mountaineers see the demise of the Step as a loss of mountain lore, as it was the last obstacle to pass before summiting. "We had always thought of it as the obstacle on the ridge which could well spell defeat," Hillary wrote in his book, High Adventure.

However, it was not only a romantic idea. As more people and more inexperienced mountaineers attempted to climb Everest, the Step also became a dangerous point of human traffic jams. Everest climber Ed Viesturs wrote in the New York Times, "Climbers run out of bottled oxygen and collapse, or they push upward long after a sensible turnaround deadline and end up descending in the dark, or they succumb to hypothermia and frostbite simply because they're forced to stand in place for hours, waiting their turn," he said.

Nevertheless, it is unclear if the absence of the Step will make the ascent easier or more difficult. Mosedale told the website Planet Mountain, “It’s easier going up the snow slope and indeed for inexperienced climbers and mountaineers there’s less ‘climbing’ to be done, making it much easier for them. However, it’s going to form a bottleneck. The Hillary Step often formed a bottleneck but some years ago they fixed an up and a down rope. In the current state, it would be difficult to safely negotiate down where the step used to be on account of the huge unstable rocks that are perched on the route.”

Sources: BBC, The Guardian

About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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