As we’ve mentioned before, the spring climbing season in the Himalaya is in full swing with teams arriving in Base Camp on both the North and South Side of Everest. The climbers now face several weeks of acclimatization and training ahead of their final summit bids, which are likely to start around mid-May. Those schedules were thrown off a bit this week when a collapse along the route through the treacherous Khumbu Icefall caused teams to delay their first forays up the slope. The icefall is located just above Base Camp on the South Side of Everest at an altitude of 5486 meters (17,998 ft). It is in this region that the Khumbu Glacier separates from the mountain itself and begins to calve as it descends into the valley below. The glacier moves at such a rapid pace at times that the icefall actually changes on a daily basis. It is not uncommon for large crevasses to open up between the pillars of ice and those pillars have a tendency to collapse without notice, particularly as temperatures begin to rise. The unsteady nature of the icefall make it one of the most dangerous sections on the entire mountain and more climbers have lost their lives passing through it than any other place. Because of this, teams try to limit the number of times they must cross it and when they do make the trek, they seldom dawdle.
A special team of Sherpas is assigned to the icefall on an annual basis with the lone responsibility of building and maintaining a safe route through to the South Col beyond. Collectively known as the Ice Doctors, this team places metal ladders across the open crevasses and fixes ropes to guide the climbers through this highly nerve wracking portion of the climb. When the teams do pass through they clip into the ropes for safety then walk across the ladders as they extend over crevasses that plummet hundreds of feet beneath them.
Up until this week, the icefall had actually been in good condition without any kind of major issues arising. But on Wednesday several teams were up well before the crack of dawn to begin their first acclimatization treks to Camp 1 only to have those hikes cancelled. During the over night hours large sections of the glacier collapsed and an entirely new route had to be found and built through the icefall. That meant another day in Base Camp for the majority of the climbers, most of whom are now eager to get on their way.
Fortunately, the Ice Docs were able to rebuild the route in short order and most of the teams resumed their climb yesterday, just a single day off their intended schedule. Many of them spent the night in Camp 1 last night and are on their way up to Camp 2 today. They still have a long way to go before they even begin to think about the summit, but they have taken their first steps towards actually standing on top of the tallest mountain on the planet.
[Photo Credit: International Mountain Guides]