Touted as the most difficult feature on one of Mount Everest’s standard climbing routes, the Hillary Step has collapsed.
Sir Edmund Hillary’s legacy as the first man to climb Mount Everest remains, but the iconic, near-vertical rock face named for him is no more.
Editor’s note: Since the publication of this article, others have disputed that the Hillary Step was destroyed.
According to photos posted by British mountaineer Tim Mosedale, who summited Everest last week, the Hillary Step feature crumbled into a snowy slope.
It isn’t clear what caused the cliff’s destruction. Mosedale and others speculate the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck Nepal in 2015 may be responsible.
Hillary Step Destroyed
The significance of the cliff’s collapse for climbers is uncertain. Mosedale and his climbing team successfully navigated the snow-covered, rocky pile that now sits some 200 feet from the summit.
The feature was widely lauded as the final and most difficult task Everest posed for mountaineers. It was a 39-foot technical climb along the southeast ridge, beginning at 28,839 feet above sea level. While the snowy slope that remains in its place may be less strenuous, its stability is unknown. And as a new feature, it may insert a bottleneck for expeditions, a delay that could prove perilous so close to the mountaintop.
The step’s demise was rumored at the outset of last year’s climbing season, but snow cover made confirmation impossible. Mosedale’s discovery leaves no question the Hillary Step is gone.
Volatility On Everest
The news is the latest upheaval surrounding the world’s highest peak. Myriad economic, social, and environmental concerns plague the industry set on bringing folks to the top of the world.
In 2013, unrest between the Nepalese guides and the expeditioners resulted in a high profile fistfight on the mountain. In 2014, 16 Sherpas died when a serac collapsed in the Khumbu Icefall, resulting in a catastrophic avalanche. Some point a finger at climate change as responsible for the increased instability of ice on the mountain.
Then in April 2015, an avalanche, following a magnitude 7.8 earthquake, struck Nepal. At least 22 people were killed on the mountain (among more than 9,000 people killed by the quake). The disaster closed the mountain for the season.
Several groups have added new safety and rescue measures in the last year, but climbing Everest remains a dangerous endeavor.
We will monitor how the changing face of Everest affects future ascents.