Although the vast majority of people assume that the riskiest part of a Mount Everest climb is the summit, or the Death Zone, this is not actually true. Statistics show that an area of the South Side of Mount Everest is far more dangerous. The Khumbu Icefall is the site of more deaths than anywhere else on Everest. This highly dangerous part can be found not far from base camp at roughly 18,000 feet.
Located at the very south of the Khumbu Glacier is the Khumbu Icefall. Because the ice is constantly moving and changing, huge crevasses and towers of ice are dotted all over the place. Due to the fact that these crevasses can be incredibly wide and extremely deep, it can be highly challenging for the climber trying to safely navigate this area. Due to the fact that the ice changes all of the time, it is important that a pathway is kept opened throughout the Everest climbing season.
This is where the Khumbu Ice Doctors come in.
The Ice Doctors are made up of a very experienced team of Sherpa’s who have the skills necessary to create such paths. These Sherpa’s are absolutely essential when it comes to those who wish to climb Mount Everest from the Nepali side. Every single year this team of highly skilled Sherpa’s will create new paths by placing ladders across potentially dangerous crevasses. As well as this, they set up guide ropes made out of thin nylon. These guide ropes are secured by screws and anchors to make them safe to use. Once these ropes are securely in place, climbers are able to walk across the huge gaps in the ice, using the ladders and ropes. In most cases, climbers will use crampons for this daunting task. Understandably, this is a very scary experience, even for the most experienced climber.
Unsurprisingly, many ladders are used to create pathways throughout the whole of the Icefall. Climbers who are taking this route will find that they have to pass through the course off ladders several times as they reach higher points on the mountain.
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The ice that is located on Mount Everest can actually move a staggering distance each day, sometimes as much as four feet. Because of this, the Ice Doctors are required to stay on Everest towards the end of May in order to maintain the pathways. They also have to check that all ropes and ladders are safe to use. When the Ice Doctors head home, it is usually a sign that the climbing season on the South Side of the mountain is finished for the year.
According to reports, more than twenty ladders have been used by the Ice Doctors this year (2012) alone in order to complete the entire course. A lot of the expedition teams for this year have already begun practising their skills through the Icefall. They are soon to start their full expedition.