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Mt Everest Just Got A Whole Lot Easier To Climb, But There's A Catch

The Hillary Step is gone. Which means one less cliff to climb. But it could also mean a bottleneck.

24/05/2017 8:45 PM AEST | Updated 24/05/2017 8:46 PM AEST
Reuters Photographer / Reuters
That's the step there, in the centre right of the pic.

The Hillary Step is gone. As the Himalayan climbing season unfolds, it is becoming clear that the sheer rock face just below the summit of Mt Everest has crumbled away -- presumably as a result of the 2015 earthquake.

This matters to Everest climbers because the Step was the last serious obstacle before the summit.

Named after Sir Edmund Hillary, the Kiwi who alongside Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953 was the first to climb Mt Everest, the Hillary Step was located at about 8800m, barely 50 metres below the 8848m summit.

Many an expedition over the years came unstuck there, both on the way up and down. Now the whole game has changed.

Here's a closer view, this time from the Everest Expedition Facebook page.

Everest Expedition Facebook page

The Everest Expedition page is run by Tim Mosedale, an accomplished British mountaineer and guide. He wrote:

It's official - The Hillary Step is no more. Not sure what's going to happen when the snow ridge doesn't form because there's some huge blocks randomly perched hither and thither which will be quite tricky to negotiate.

Mosedale's post makes it clear it's not yet known whether things will be easier or harder overall for climbers now.

Many in the climbing community believe the route may now be easier. In years gone by, an awful bottleneck formed around The Step. Many climbers froze to death on their descent after being delayed in the area.

The congestion eased a few years ago when an up-rope and a down-rope were fixed, but there was still a bottleneck. It was, after all, still a 12 metre rock wall at the summit of the world. People could only climb it so fast.

AFP/Getty Images
This was a quiet day.

With the Step gone, progress should be quicker -- on the way up at least. The problem is that with loose boulders on the side, there may not be room for two lanes of traffic.

So despite the terrain being easier, it's also narrower. Which means we could have the same old congestion problem all over again, as people ascending have to wait for those descending and vice versa.

With Everest traffic on the increase (a record number of 372 permits were granted to climbers this year), that could be a problem.

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