Establishing Climbing Routes on Mount Everest
Mount Everest, the highest mountain above sea level, has always been a magnet for mountaineers from around the globe. With two primary ascending paths, the Southeast Ridge from Nepal and the North Ridge from Tibet, plus other lesser-known routes, navigating Everest requires a balance of audacity, expert decision-making, and reverence for Mother Nature. But how exactly are these climbing routes established on Mount Everest?
A Historical Perspective
The first recognized attempt to scale Mount Everest occurred in 1921 by a British Reconnaissance Expedition. They recognized the probable route via the North Col to the Northeast Ridge but failed in execution. The first successful summit, however, was made along the Southern route on May 29, 1953, by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa.
Establishing A New Route: Feats and Challenges
Creating new climbing routes on Everest is a gargantuan challenge. It requires an in-depth knowledge of the mountain’s topography, weather patterns, ice and snow conditions, experience, and an almost superhuman level of physical and mental resilience.
Initial exploration for a new route often involves traversing icefalls, crevasses, seracs, or potentially dangerous avalanche zones. Expedition teams need to secure the route using fixed lines and ladders, establish and resupply high-altitude camps, and shuttle gear.
The Routes Establishment Process
1. Route Planning
The establishment of a new climbing route on Everest begins with meticulous planning. This includes a thorough topographical study of the intended line, identifying potential crevasses, avalanches zones, icefalls, and rockfall zones.
2. Base Camp Setup
A base camp is established as an initial section of the route. Over the years, Camp South (Nepal side) and Camp North (Tibet side) have become the most popular base camps due to their accessibility and relative safety.
3. Route Fixing
Expedition teams, often assisted by Sherpas, navigate the route, fixing ropes and ladders along dangerous stretches such as the Khumbu Icefall. This process can take weeks and is usually done in stages, based on acclimatization needs and weather patterns.
4. High-Altitude Camps
Various high-altitude camps are established along the route to provide resting points for climbers and store gear and supplies. These camps are positioned with regard to accessibility, safety, and proximity to key route sections.
Role of Sherpas in Route Establishment
The Sherpas, the indigenous people of the Khumbu region in Nepal, play an integral role in establishing and maintaining climbing routes on Mount Everest. Their intimate knowledge of the mountain, coupled with their exceptional high-altitude prowess, makes them an invaluable asset in any Everest expedition.
New Routes Vs. Established Routes
While established routes are preferred for their relative safety, new routes pose additional challenges but offer opportunities for significant mountaineering achievements. However, given the inherent dangers and complexity of Everest, any new route endeavor needs a combination of extraordinary preparation, team experience, and favourable weather conditions.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How many climbing routes exist on Mount Everest?
There are over 18 known routes on Mount Everest, but the South Col route from Nepal and the North Col route from Tibet are the most commonly used.
2. Is each climbing season on Everest the same?
No. Conditions on Mount Everest change each year. Glacial moving, avalanches, and even earthquakes can significantly alter the climbing routes.
3. Due to the inherent danger, why establish new routes?
New routes are established for the challenge and exploration, offering experienced climbers an opportunity to leave their mark on mountaineering history.
4. Who are the Sherpas?
Sherpas are an ethnic group from the most mountainous region of Nepal, high in the Himalayas. They have a genetic adaptation to living in high altitudes, and this, coupled with their familiarity with Everest’s terrain, helps them assist climbers in route fixing, carrying supplies, and even rescues.
5. What are some famous routes apart from the South Col and North Col?
The West Ridge Route, established in 1963 by an American team, and the Southwest Face route, first climbed in 1975 by a British team, are two other very well recognized routes.