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The Hillary Step is the black rock section on the ridge just below the final summit snow slope Photo: Anselm Murphy.

The Hillary Step is the black rock section on the ridge just below the final summit snow slope Photo: Anselm Murphy.


The Inertia

Of all the features on Mount Everest, the Hillary Step may be the most well-known. Was the most well-known, I should say. Past tense because it’s not there anymore.

“It’s official,” Tim Mosedale, a British mountaineer, explained on Facebook. “The Hillary Step is no more.” For those not exactly in the know, the Hillary Step was a near-vertical 40-foot part of Everest’s southeastern ridge. It was the last obstacle before the summit, and it’s named after–you guessed it–Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to conquer the mountain along with Tenzing Norgay who packed all the heavy stuff and got way less credit.

That was back in 1953 when Edmund Hillary wasn’t a Sir yet. He, along with Norgay, got to the then-unnamed Hillary Step. Reports have it that they eventually scaled it “by leaning back on a snow cornice as he edged his way up with his feet.” Since a fall to either side would result in certain death, it was an incredibly brave solution to a problem that seemed insurmountable.

The Hillary Step sat nearly 30,000 feet above sea level until the massive earthquake in April of 2015 apparently shook it loose. That earthquake changed the face of Mount Everest, and expeditions are currently underway to remap it. Although researchers aren’t entirely positive that an earthquake was to blame for the destruction of the Hillary Step–no one was there in person–they say it is the most likely scenario. “It could well just be gravity,” Mosedale told BBC, “but I would suspect the earthquake was the cause.”

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake was devastating. It was, in fact, the “deadliest day in Everest’s history,” according to IFL.com. It triggered an avalanche that swept through the base camp, killing 21 people. The harrowing event was caught on tape.

Mosedale told BBC that it was the end of an era. “It is associated with the history of Everest,” he said, “and it is a great shame a piece of mountaineering folklore has disappeared.”



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