The start of the spring climbing season on Everest may still be a couple of weeks off, but news from the Big Hill continues to stream in none the less. We already know that there will be a military presence in South Side Base Camp this year, and that Nepal is cracking down on climbers who leave trash behind as well. Now, we’ve also learned that the Himalayan nation is taking steps to ensure the mountain is safer as well, with the possible inclusion of a ladder to the famed Hillary Step.
Earlier in the week, representatives of the Ministry of Tourism indicated that Sherpas would fix extra ropes to the summit of Everest this season in an effort to ease traffic jams on the mountain. In recent years, the route to the top of the world’s highest peak has become quite congested, leading many to question the safety of such a climb. The additional ropes would help to make things safer, while hopefully allowing traffic to flow more quickly as well.
Amongst the other possibilities for improving safety on the mountain is the installation of a ladder on the Hillary Step. That section of the climb is a rock face that is the final major hurdle to overcome on the way to the summit, and it is a bottleneck where slower climbers can really cause things to come to a halt. To make matters worse, it is a narrow section, which has often had mountaineers going both up and down on the same ropes in the past.
Adding the ladder would make it easier to get over the Hillary Step, but purists say it also takes something away from the climb. The Step was the last hurdle that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had to clear on their first summit of Everest back in 1953, and it has remained part of the mountain’s lore ever since.
Using a ladder is not unheard of on Everest. On the North Side of the mountain in Tibet, there has been a ladder on the Second Step for years. It is another tough rock face for climbers to overcome, and the Chinese have maintained a ladder at that section to aid the ascent for some time. This would be the first time that such assistance would be included on the South Side however, where ladders have only been employed in the dangerous Khumbu Icefall in the past.
The 2014 climbing season is shaping up to be an interesting one. While it will be tough to top last year’s crazy Everest news, there is already plenty of controversy to go around this year. Hopefully things will quiet down as the season gets underway, but it seems there could be a lot of interesting stories to share once again this year.
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