A controversy has arisen during Everest2017 over whether or not the famous Hillary Step outcrop on Mount Everest has collapsed.
This week climbers, including Kenton Cool, stated that the rocky outcrop near the summit of Everest called the Hillary Step had collapsed and was no longer visible on the mount. Cool, who has ascended the mountain 12 times, spoke in a video interview with BBC and stated, “It didn’t look, to me, as if it was the Hillary Step of old.”
Days after Cool’s claim, two Nepalese climbers ascended the mountain and contradicted his claims.
Also affirming that the Hillary Step was intact was a Nepalese Sherpa guide, Pasang Tenzing Sherpa.
Ang Tshering Sherpa, President of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, also agreed with Tenzing in a statement he made to BBC Nepali:
“Nothing has happened to Hillary Step as a result of the earthquake. It’s only that only a small portion of the rock is visible, the rest is under snow.”
However, more western climbers, including British mountaineer Tim Mosedale, stood by Cool’s claim that the Hillary Step had possibly been a victim of the 2015 Everest Earthquake. In a statement to the BBC on 16 May, he said, it’s “definitely not there anymore.”
On Monday, 22 May, he reiterated on Facebook “There’s not enough snow to cover what was a MASSIVE block.”
What is the Hillary Step?
The Hillary Step is a 39 ft. (12 m.) rocky outcrop near the summit of Everest. The Step is named after Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to climb Mount Everest on Friday, 29 May 1953 with Tenzing Norgay. It serves as the last obstacle before reaching the summit and is considered by most mountaineers to be the only technical part of the Everest climb.
Why is the Hillary Step So Important?
The Hillary Step is more of a right of passage than it is a landmark on the mountain. This is the last great stop before reaching the summit. And it is also the site of massive bottlenecks that sees climbers waiting between two and three hours for their turn to pass it.
The manner in which the rock has formed requires for only one-way traffic in that area; climbers ascending must wait for climbers who are descending, in some cases, vice versa. But after the Step, it’s a relative walk to the summit.
The Hillary Step is also a dramatic character on the mount on its own. This is the spot where climbers often lose their judgment and make bad decisions to continue to summit well past their set turnaround time. This behavior is a process called Summit Fever. In the case of the Hillary Step, this happens because climbers finally reached their turn at “go.”
Many who do this face descending in the dark during bad weather. Some even find death before completing their descent, as was the case during the 1996 Everest Disaster that killed 8 climbers in one day.
The wait at the Hillary Step also causes some climbers to succumb to high-altitude sickness from being in the Death Zone for far too long in an almost immobile state. Many experience hypoxia, HAPE or HACE, and some experience hypothermia. You could say that the Hillary Step plays Judge, Jury and Executioner on Everest, deeming who gets to climb and when, taking down the rest, and deciding what happens to those who choose to climb past its barrier.
Ed Viesturs referred to it as “the final test you pass to earn the summit.”
When Did the Hillary Step Disappear?
No one knows for sure when the Hillary Step collapsed, if it did, or when it was altered. For some time now, climbers have reported that the Step appeared to look different, altered in some way, possibly by the 2015 Everest Earthquake. In 2016, an image published by the American Himalayan Foundation seemed to show that the Hillary Step had somehow changed in shape.
As the Everest2017 season comes to a close, we are sure we will see more images that claim to prove the Step is gone and some that prove it is still intact. Until then, it’s hard to tell who is right. As it stands, possible reasons for the conflicting stories could be attributed to the locals not wanting to accept that the second-most famous attraction and part of the country’s biggest moneymaker is gone. Or, it could just be that some climbers are mistaken or confused about their individual definitions of “collapsed.”
See Kenton Cool Affirm The Hillary Step is Gone
“Everest’s Hillary Step: Has It Gone or Not?” BBC News. BBC, 22 May 2017. Web. 27 May 2017.
Staff, Our Foreign. “Mount Everest’s Hillary Step Collapses .” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 21 May 2017. Web. 27 May 2017.
McKirdy, Euan, and Sugam Pokharel. “Everest’s Historic Hillary Step Still Intact: Officials.”CNN. Cable News Network, 22 May 2017. Web. 27 May 2017.