What is the Hillary Step on Mount Everest?
Mount Everest, standing at a mammoth 8,848 meters, has always captivated the imagination and spirit of adventurers and mountaineers worldwide. There are several formidable challenges along the way to the summit, but none quite as daunting or as infamous as the Hillary Step.
The Hillary Step: A Brief Introduction
The Hillary Step, named after Sir Edmund Hillary – the first person, along with Tenzing Norgay, to successfully reach the summit of Mount Everest – is a near-vertical rock face measuring approximately 40 feet in height. At an elevation of 8,790 meters, it’s one of the final obstacles climbers must overcome before reaching the summit.
For over sixty years, the Hillary Step was an infamous part of any climber’s journey to the summit, presenting a unique and dangerous challenge that required a combine of physical strength, stamina, and technical climbing skills.
Anatomy of the Hillary Step
Climbers traditionally used ropes and ladders to ascend the Hillary Step, a process that could be both grueling and time-consuming, especially given the step’s location in the extreme conditions of “the death zone,” where the air is thin, the temperatures are freezing, and climbers’ energy levels are running low. The step’s descent was just as perilous, with climbers having to rappel down the face.
The Hillary Step is located in the southeast ridge route, the most commonly used route for summiting Everest. Here is where climbers from both the north and south routes converge, often creating potential traffic jams and bottlenecks that can be both time-consuming and incredibly dangerous due to the extended exposure to harsh conditions.
Controversy and Confusion: The ‘Disappearance’ of the Hillary Step
After the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal in 2015, there were several reports suggesting the Hillary Step had been destroyed. Many climbers returning from the mountain reported it had changed shape or disappeared entirely. However, controversy and confusion ensued as other mountaineers and experts claimed that the step was simply covered with snow.
The situation remained uncertain due to Nepal’s climbing restrictions, which were implemented following the earthquake.
In 2017, British mountaineer Tim Mosedale declared after summiting Everest that the Hillary Step was definitely gone. This statement was later confirmed by the Nepal Mountaineering Association, which sent an expedition to inspect the situation and found that the step had indeed changed.
What Does this Mean for Everest Climbers?
The removal of the Hillary Step could potentially make the route easier and quicker to traverse, thereby reducing the risk that comes with overcrowding and exposure to harsh conditions at those altitudes. However, it could also make the route more dangerous in other respects, as the previous fixed line and route have changed.
Despite the changes to the Hillary Step, reaching the summit of Mount Everest remains one of the most challenging and exhilarating experiences any mountaineer can undertake.
Frequently Asked Questions about Hillary Step
1. Who was the Hillary Step named after?
It was named after Sir Edmund Hillary, a New Zealand mountaineer who, along with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, was the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest. They accomplished this historic feat on 29 May 1953.
2. Where is the Hillary Step located?
The Hillary Step is on the southeast ridge route of Mount Everest, just below the summit.
3. Why is the Hillary Step so challenging?
The Hillary Step was challenging due to its near-vertical 40-foot rock face, which climbers had to ascend and descend using ropes and ladders. The challenge was heightened by the Step’s location in the death zone, where oxygen levels are extremely low.
4. What happened to the Hillary Step?
In 2015, after a severe earthquake, reports emerged stating that the Step had changed or even disappeared. In 2017, it was confirmed that the Hillary Step had indeed disappeared, probably as a result of the earthquake.
5. Has the disappearance of the Hillary Step made climbing Everest easier?
The disappearance of the Hillary Step has made the ascent faster as there are no bottlenecks at this point now. However, it has also changed the traditional route, causing some uncertainty and potential danger for climbers.