The Guardian, Kate Lyons, 21st May 2017, Sunday, Nepal
Tim Mosedale says destruction of rocky outcrop, possibly in 2015 earthquake, may make climbing to summit more dangerous.
A British mountaineer has confirmed that a famous rocky outcrop near the peak of Mount Everest has collapsed, potentially making the climb more dangerous.
The Hillary Step, named after Sir Edmund Hillary who, along with the sherpa Tenzing Norgay, was the first person to climb the mountain in 1953, may have been destroyed during the 2015 Nepal earthquake.
The 12 metre-high rocky outcrop was a near-vertical climb on the south-east ridge of the mountain. There had been rumours from climbers on earlier expeditions that the step had been destroyed, but snowy conditions made it difficult to confirm.
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 any more,” British mountaineer Tim Mosedale said.
Reports of the step’s destruction began circulating last year after photographs were published by the American Himalayan Foundation. But snow cover in the pictures made it difficult to say whether the section had definitely collapsed.Mosedale, who reached Everest’s summit for the sixth time on 16 May, posted a photograph of what remains of the Hillary Step when he returned to base camp. It shows the topography has changed significantly compared with photographs taken a few years ago.
Mosedale told the Guardian that he felt quite emotional when he saw the collapsed step.
“It’s a piece of mountaineering history that has disappeared. Even non-mountaineers know the name and the association of the infamous Hillary Step,” he said.
He said the difference between the state of the step as he saw it on this trip and his previous five expeditions was “huge” and meant he had serious concerns for how people would safely climb the section in the future.
Located at 8,790 metres, the Hillary Step is a steep and narrow section considered by climbers to be the last obstacle before the summit, which is at 8,848 metres.
Its destruction may make the ascent easier – as it will no longer involve a vertical rock climb – or more dangerous because there may be limited paths up the section, meaning climbers will have to wait for long periods in cold temperatures and at a high altitude while others attempt it.
“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,” Mosedale told the website Planet Mountain.
“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.”