The Hillary Step

Mount Everest is the highest peak in the world. The snow-covered peak, the fascinating height, the perils associated with it makes it a challenging task for all mountain climbers across the world.

During the British 1953 Mount Everest Expedition Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay came across their last major obstacle before reaching the highest summit in the world. Before them stood a perpendicular upright mass of rock that is around forty feet in height.

It is located at approx 28,840 feet above sea level, on the South East Ridge (Nepal side) between the South summit and the true summit. This step was once totally covered with snow and ice but over the latter years it has become more of a rock step, probably due to climate change.

The step its self is a challenge for the strongest climber but you also have to face with the sheer drops either side of you and the exposure where it is located.

Once this rock step has been successfully ascended a clear path leads you to the top of the world.

Hillary Step on Mount Everest

Photo (C) Jaroslaw C. Hawrylewicz

The Hillary Step has been clearly named after the renowned Sir Edmund Hillary who was the first person to climb it. He did so on the 29th May 1953 with his climbing partner Tenzing Norgay. Everyone imagines the Hillary Step with its ropes to aid the climber, but back in 1953 there were no previous ropes to help them. Hillary had to use nothing but his hands, crampons, strength and determination to somehow scale this piece of rock. He did so with a safe belay for protection from Tenzing below. They both found it very hard work but were successful in ascending this barrier that lay in their way. They then went on to become the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

Today you ascend and descend the Hillary Step by the use of ropes that have been fixed to the mountain by Sherpas. This however still doesn’t make it any easier to climb. With large precarious drops either side of you it is a place where you cannot afford to make any mistakes. One wrong step and your life can be at stake. One of the hazards of the Hillary Step is waiting for other climbers to either ascend or descend, this can lead to a bottleneck forming. There is only one way up and back down and all climbers share the same route. Waiting around could lead you to getting too cold, running out of oxygen and losing too much time. Because of this you may even have to give up your own summit bid.

Over the last decade Mount Everest has drawn more and more climbers to her slopes, this has reportedly led to some climbers having had to wait up to three hours in line at the bottom of the Hillary Step waiting there turn to ascend to the summit.

To over come this problem the Tourism Ministry of Nepal has said they may install ladders on Hillary Step to make it safer for climbers. Whether this will actually happen or not we will have to wait and see, but would a ladder be the answer?

Today the Hillary Step has been climbed thousands of times but this does not mean that it is an easy climb, it most certainly is not. You still have the altitude, other climbers, the wind and cold, old ropes and exposure to deal with, making this forty foot piece of rock a very dangerous obstacle indeed.