we received word that the Hillary Step was gone from the mountain, possibly due to the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. Later, Nepalese officials tried to reassure us that it was indeed still in place, but simply covered in snow, causing a bit of uncertainty and doubt over its current status. Now, we get further word on the condition of this iconic point on the climb, and it sounds like the initial reports were true after all.
Mountaineers Garrett Madison and Ben Jones tell Outside magazine that at the very least, the Hillary Step has been severely altered. Originally, the Step consisted of several large boulders stacked on top of one another, with smaller rocks wedged in around them. This created a near vertical rock wall 39 feet (11.8 meters) in height that had to be scaled before proceeding to the summit. Now, it appears that the largest of those boulders has come off the top of the landmark, bringing quite a bit of debris down with it.
Madison tells Outside “The boulder formally know as the Hillary Step is gone. It’s pretty obvious that the boulder fell off and has been replaced by snow. You can see some of the rocks below it that were there before, but the gigantic boulder is missing now.”
The top of the Hilary Step is now covered in deep snow, which helped to hide the fact that it had been altered, even though there were reports during the 2016 season that it was damaged. The snow remained this year as well, but the damage done to the mountain was more evident as climbers approached.
So how will this alter the ascent along the South Col route? Madison says it has made it easier, as climbers no longer have to scale the vertical rock face. Instead they can go up a series of snow steps that are easier to navigate. He also thinks the removal of the giant boulder will help alleviate traffic jams coming and going from the summit, something that was common in the past but wasn't much of an issue this year.
Others aren't sure that the loss of the Hillary Step will make things easier, particularly if there isn't any snow. But, as noted in the Outside article, the biggest disappointment is that an iconic monument of the mountain – named for Edmund Hillary – is now gone. That is something that simply can't be replaced.
Read more here.