By Kraig Becker
A plan to install a ladder at a crucial climbing point on Mt. Everest has drawn the ire of some mountaineers who say that that it will take away some of the challenge of the climb. But proponents of the idea say that it will ease traffic jams on the mountain and make it a safer place for everyone. Earlier this week, Dawa Steven Sherpa, who is commercial climbing guide and is part of the Expedition Operators Association in Nepal, announced plans to possibly install the ladder at the Hillary Step, a 40-foot rock wall located at 28,750 feet. The wall is the last major obstacle that climbers face on their way to the summit and because of its technical nature, it is often a place where traffic jams occur. The narrow approach means that only one person can be on the Hillary Step at any given time, both going up and coming down. This has caused congestion high on mountain with some climbers waiting in line for as much as three hours.
According to Dawa, the ladder would only be used by climbers who are descending from the summit. On the way down they would simply take a slightly different route and use the ladder to negotiate the tricky rock wall rather than the ropes. In theory, this would greatly reduce waiting times for those still proceeding up, as they would no longer have to share access to the fixed lines.
Those opposed to this idea say that the ladder takes something away from the spirit of the climb and makes the Hillary Step much less of an obstacle, even if it is only used on the descent. Others say the ladder doesn’t really address the real issue with overcrowding, namely the fact that there are just too many inexperienced climbers on the mountain. Some have even said they’re not sure how a ladder would work logistically, as the Hillary Step doesn’t provide for a safe and easy place to secure it.
In any case, using a ladder on Everest is far from a new concept. On the South Side, ladders are already used in the Khumbu Icefall as a safe method of traversing that dangerous section of the climb. On the North Side in Tibet, a ladder is also permanently in place at the Second Step, which is another treacherous rock wall that must be climbed on the way to the summit. The Second Step is longer and far more technically challenging than the Hillary Step however and without it, very few climbers would ever summit from that side of the mountain.
As a crowd control device, the ladder doesn’t seem like a very useful tool, but if it can make things safer on Everest, I’m all for it.
[Photo Credit: Jon Kedrowski]