Debate rages whether or not Hillary Step has fallen off

- SANGAM PRASAIN, Kathmandu

May 24, 2018-

Officials and climbers continue to argue whether or not an iconic chunk of Everest got dislodged during the 2015 earthquake. While the government maintains that Hillary Step-a rocky outcrop jutting out of the slopes of Everest just below the summit-remains intact, mountaineers who have been there say that it has fallen off.

Several mountaineers, including the most experienced Nepali guide Kami Rita Sherpa, hold that it fell off during the tremor. After making a close observation, a number of Sherpas including experienced foreign mountaineers said that the iconic rock was ‘no more’ and that a once difficult trail had turned into a slope. However, government officials claim that it still exists.

International media attention was drawn after a British mountaineer Tim Mosedale confirmed news reports of the disappearance of Hillary Step on Facebook after reaching the summit on May 16 last year. The mountaineer said the outcrop may have come down during the devastating 2015 earthquake.

On May 26 last year, the Department of Tourism issued a statement saying that the rock face located just below the summit of Everest was intact and covered with snow. “The misconception may have appeared as a new route to the summit has been constructed some 5 metres to the right of the original route,” the department said.

Fresh photographs obtained by the Post show that Hillary Step has disappeared. “It’s confirmed. The iconic rock is no more,” said Kami Rita, who climbed Everest for a record 22nd time this year. “It’s not only my claim. Almost all Sherpa guides who climbed Everest this year have looked closely for the rock. It’s not there. There is no confusion now.”

The 12-metre rocky outcrop, located on the mountain’s southeast ridge, is the last great challenge before the top. It was named after New Zealander Edmund Hillary who was the first to scale it in 1953.

“The trail is now easier to climb. Everyone, particularly climbers who have climbed Everest before 2014, can now feel the change. It used to take 15-25 minutes to cross the rocky outcrop before. Now climbing has become much easier,” said Kami Rita.

“Hillary Step has changed. We now climb it on the right-hand side going up a snow slope,” the French news agencyAgence France-Presse quoted British climber Kenton Cool as saying. “It clearly doesn’t have the little corner between the snow and the rock that used to be there. There’s not the rock on the top of the step that you used to go ‘à cheval’ (straddle) and shuffle along,” said Cool, who made his 13th summit of Everest last week.

On Monday, mountaineer Alan Arnette posted before and after photographs of Hillary Step on the blog alanarnette.com. A comparison of the photos taken in 2011 and 2018 shows that the most critical facet of the world’s highest peak has no rock, and that now it has become an easier route. It looks like a plain surface covered with snow.

Arnette writes, “Mike Hamill sent me this photo of the Hillary Step taken by guide Casey Grom. It is more like stairs now than an off-width crack. The Hillary Staircase. One of the reasons I wanted to get this photo was to show the silliness of the Nepal Ministry of Tourism telling climbers and guides this year, 2018, that they were not allowed to talk about the Hillary Step.”

Dinesh Bhattarai, director general of the Tourism Department, said that they hadn’t received any new information about the issue. “Hence, our official view issued last year has not changed—Everest’s Hillary Step is intact. But, if new information shows that it has gone, we will duly correct our statement and inform all the people.”

Published: 24-05-2018 06:55

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