Why is the Khumbu Icefall on Mount Everest so dangerous?

Why is the Khumbu Icefall on Mount Everest so dangerous?

Why is the Khumbu Icefall on Mount Everest so dangerous?

The Mount Everest trek is not for the faint-hearted due to its precipitous slopes, severe weather conditions, and extreme altitudes. However, one particular section stands out as the most dangerous part of the climb: the Khumbu Icefall. Intriguing yet menacing, the Khumbu Icefall is renowned for its unpredictable and perilous nature.

Understanding the Khumbu Icefall

Located at an altitude of approximately 5486 meters, just above Everest Base Camp on the Nepalese side of the mountain, the Khumbu Icefall is a steep and treacherous glacial area that pushes even the most experienced climbers to their limits.

The Icefall is so named because it quite literally is an ‘icefall’. It is a cascade of ice in the head of the Khumbu glacier that descends from the Western Cwm to the valley below. It’s a moving river of ice, slowly flowing down the mountain and changing its structure continually.

The Challenges of the Khumbu Icefall

There are several reasons why the Khumbu Icefall is considered one of the most dangerous stages of the South Col route to the Everest summit.

Unpredictable Ice Towers

The most significant challenge is the seracs or large ice towers, some as high as multi-story buildings. These seracs are incredibly unstable because they’re continually moving and can collapse without warning. This unpredictable movement of ice creates new crevasses or shuts old ones and is a substantial risk for climbers.

Dangerous Crevasses

The Khumbu Icefall is notorious for its dangerous and hidden crevasses – deep, open cracks in the glacier’s surface. Climbers must traverse these crevasses using aluminum ladders strung together and laid across the gaps.

Extreme Weather Conditions

The Icefall’s weather can change rapidly. Temperatures can dip to deadly cold levels, and storms can approach suddenly, making it even more treacherous. Additionally, the intense sunlight during the daytime can melt the ice, making it unstable and more prone to shifting or collapsing.

Elevation and Physical Exhaustion

The Icefall is at an extreme altitude where the oxygen level is significantly low. This factor exacerbates the physical and mental stresses the climbers go through.

Khumbu Icefall: The Gateway to Everest

Despite its dangers, the Khumbu Icefall is also the gateway to the higher reaches of Mount Everest on the southern route. To reach the summit, climbers must cross this natural maze of ice and snow. It’s a risk that many climbers have faced, with a deep respect for its unpredictability and understanding that without challenge there is no achievement.


1. What is the death rate at Khumbu Icefall?

It’s difficult to provide a precise number due to the varying factors involved. But in general, it’s estimated that for every 100 climbers who have dared to scale Mount Everest, approximately 4 have died in an attempt. A significant number of these deaths occur at the Khumbu Icefall.

2. How do climbers cross the Khumbu Icefall?

Climbers typically cross the Khumbu Icefall using a combination of ascending tools, including ice axes, crampons, and ropes. Many also use aluminum ladders to traverse wide crevasses. Expert Sherpas also play a crucial role in guiding climbers through safer routes.

3. Why do the ice towers or seracs in the Khumbu Icefall move or collapse?

The ice towers in the Khumbu Icefall move or collapse mainly due to the glacial movement. This movement is influenced by the pull of gravity, the slope of the terrain, the glacier’s weight, and daily fluctuations in temperature.

4. When is the Khumbu Icefall the most stable for climbing?

The Khumbu Icefall is most stable early in the morning when temperatures are at their lowest. As the day progresses and temperatures rise, the ice begins to melt, causing the structures to shift and become unstable.

5. What are other dangerous parts on the route to Everest’s summit?

While the Khumbu Icefall is notorious for its hazards, other perilous parts on the way to the summit include The Lhotse Face, The Geneva Spur, and the Hillary Step.