The official start of the 2016 climbing season on Everest may still be about a month off, but the work needed to build the route is already beginning on the South Side of the mountain in Nepal. This past weekend, a team of 10 Sherpas known as the “Icefall Doctors” set off for Base Camp to begin the challenge task of finding and building a path through the dreaded Khumbu Icefall, the most dangerous place on the mountain.
The Khumbu Icefall sits just above Base Camp on the South Side of Everest, where the glacier calves off the mountain. It is incredibly unstable, and one of the most challenging sections of the climb. Each year, the Icefall Doctors create and maintain a route through this dangerous section by placing ladders over open crevasses and fixing ropes to help keep climbers safe. It is not uncommon for that route to change throughout the season either, as instability causes ice pillars to collapse on a regular basis.
Last year, following the massive earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25, the icefall was reportedly severely damaged. But this section of the climb changes rapidly, so the Icefall Docs will likely find a very different environment than the one they left in the spring of 2015. As always, they’ll have their work cut out for them. It’ll take several weeks to establish the route, and even longer for them to fix the ropes up to Camp 2, which is where their work traditionally comes to a halt.
Everyone is hoping that this year things will return to normal on the world’s tallest mountain. After two abbreviated and tragic climbing seasons back-to-back, the climbers are feeling a bit anxious, but eager as well. By the time they start arriving in BC in a few weeks, the Icefall Doctors should have completed the bulk of their work. They’ll hang around throughout the entire season however, maintaining the route and ensuring that the teams get up and down safely. It is a difficult job, but incredibly crucial to everyone’s success on the South Side.
Lets hope 2016 is a safer and more fulfilling season all around.
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