Table of Contents Hide
- Why Climbing Khumbu Icefall Is So Dangerous?
- What Makes The Khumbu Icefall So Deadly?
- Is Climbing The Khumbu Icefall Easy?
- Why Is The Khumbu Icefall Known As The Deadliest Spot On The Planet?
- What Are The Best Ways To Stay Safe While Climbing The Khumbu Icefall?
- Will A New Path To Mount Everest Help To Avoid The Khumbu Icefall?
The Khumbu Icefall is located near the head of the Khumbu Glacier (Nepal’s largest glacier) and the foot of the Western Cwm on the sides of Mount Everest in Nepal. It is not distant from the Everest Base Camp and the summit reaches a height of 5,486 meters (17,999 feet). The Khumbu icefall is a continuous stream of ice falling from the Khumbu glacier’s head, where the ice begins to melt.
The glacier has a massive icefall known as the Khumbu Icefall at the west point of the lower Western Cwm. The Icefall is one of the most precarious sections on the South Col route to the summit of Mount Everest. Many people find it impossible to refuse because of the mountain’s geology, the icefall is the only way to reach the relatively straightforward South Col route up Everest.
On the classic south col route to the Everest summit, this icefall is the first big obstacle—and one of the most deadly. The Khumbu Glacier, which forms the icefall, slides down the mountain at a rate of 0.9 to 1.2 meters (3 to 4 feet) per day, opening large crevasses with little warning and collapsing large towers of ice (called seracs), ranging in size from automobiles to large edifices, that tumble down the glacier from time to time.
Almost everyone on Everest is aware of the dangers of the icefall. This has been known for centuries since the first renowned Everest mountaineer, George Mallory, turned away from the icefall in 1921, believing it was impossible to traverse. According to several mountaineers, climate change has rendered the section more perilous than ever.
It’s an ice river, a half-mile or so of continually shifting glaciers interrupted by deep crevasses and overhanging immensities of ice as tall as 10-story houses. It can move 6 feet in a single day. It may take as much as twelve hours to cross it.
At the icefall, crevasses can open and close in less than a day. Ropes can be snapped, and ladders can be shattered by the constantly shifting ice. Looming glaciers, whether on the icefall or Everest’s western slope, can break off in an instant, triggering avalanches that send thousands of tons of ice crashing down the mountain.
Why Climbing Khumbu Icefall Is So Dangerous?
Climbers should be aware that the Khumbu Icefall might become a fatal trap at any time. When one of the seracs, the massive ice towers, collapses, new crevasses open or old ones shift.
Avalanches are also a concern on the snow-and ice-covered West Shoulder of Everest, as well as the slopes of the 7,861-meter-high Nuptse. Climbers, on the other hand, continue to visit the area. This is because you will almost certainly have to pass through the icefall to reach Mount Everest’s peak.
The majority of climbers attempt to cross before daylight, while the icefall is still partially frozen from the night’s cold and hence less able to move. As the area becomes warmer, friction inside the ice structure decreases, increasing the rate at which crevasses open and chunks of snow fall. The mid-to-late afternoon is often the riskiest time to cross.
Climbers who are strong and acclimatized can ascend the icefall in a few hours, whereas those who are new to it or lack acclimatization or expertise need 10–12 hours to finish the route. On Everest’s South Col route, “Camp I” is usually just past the summit of the Khumbu Icefall.
A massive block of ice may occasionally fall near a climber, releasing a blast of displaced air and snow that might result in a “dusting” from a billowing cloud of light ice and snow—a terrifying sensation.
Because it is impossible to run away or even know which direction to run in an avalanche or other “movement” event in the icefall, a climber caught in an avalanche or other “movement” event in the icefall can do very little. Climbers train for entrapment by heavy blocks of ice as well as rescue others.
The Khumbu Icefall is one of the world’s most dangerous climbing sites, with seasonally shifting and altering crevasses. Every season, a crew of expert Sherpas leads mountaineers, erecting ladders to bridge the immense gaps. Even experienced Sherpas are hesitant to move when the sun shines because the Khumbu Icefall, which leads to the world’s tallest summit, is famously perilous.
What Makes The Khumbu Icefall So Deadly?
Melting glaciers is rarely good news, but Everest guides claim that melting makes climbing the Khumbu Icefall between BC and C1 safer. Climbers will have to travel greater distances between C1 and C2 since the crevasses look to be getting more prolonged and more profound.
The Khumbu Glacier, which moves daily, is the principal cause of its continual alterations. The glacier rapidly recedes, resulting in a 2.5-mile icefall. The icefall moves, as do all glaciers, sometimes up to three feet each day. Because of its altitude, the glacier is not melting as quickly as other glaciers, according to ICIMOD, a Kathmandu-based mountain research agency. It is the world’s highest glacier.
It is thought to be retreating at a rate of roughly 65’/20m per year and has shrunk by about 3,100’/940m since the 1960s. The icefall has thinned by an average of 56’/17m between 1962 and 2002, at a pace of 1.3’/39cm each year.
The Khumbu glacier moves like all glaciers, up to 3’/1m every day in the core, and rarely moves at the borders due to friction with rock walls. Because of friction with the ground, the top of the glacier travels quicker than the bottom. Deep crevasses, some over 150’/45m in-depth, and towering ice seracs over 30’/9m high are the result of this dynamic of fast and slow-moving portions combined with the precipitous drop.
Crossing the Khumbu Icefall is so treacherous that the structures constantly shift, so even massive rope and ladder crossings cannot avoid death. Many people have died in this location, including a climber who was crushed by a 12-story slab of ice.
Is Climbing The Khumbu Icefall Easy?
While expert guides can cross the icefall’s most treacherous sections in about half an hour, amateurs may need several hours to cover the same distance. Even the most experienced mountaineers will be terrified by this expedition.
Climbers of all levels can fall off a ladder. According to an expert guide, “navigating the icefall takes roughly four or five hours for high-altitude Sherpa climbers.” Icefall Doctors are special teams of Sherpas who utilize aluminum ladders to bridge crevasses and connect ropes along what they feel are the safest paths. However, because the Khumbu moves so dramatically, they must go out every morning before the climbers to repair pieces that have broken overnight and, if necessary, modify the climbing route.
By using ropes and leaving ladders behind themselves, Sherpas are able to explore and create a trail through the icefall. Climbers also require oxygen bottles to help them in their climb as the air thins out reducing the oxygen levels at every ascent. Climbers rely on the guidance and tracks of the Sherpas to make their ascent on the mountain’s most dangerous parts.
The icefall is only traversed twice by most paid climbers, once going up and once coming down. On the other hand, Sherpas traverse the dangerous terrain two to three times per season.
Why Is The Khumbu Icefall Known As The Deadliest Spot On The Planet?
Because of the melting ice, the Khumbu glacier is moving down the mountain at a rapid rate of three to four feet per day. This implies that massive crevasses might appear out of nowhere, and frozen towers can collapse at any time, dumping large blocks of ice down the trail. Climbers frequently venture into the passage early in the morning, when the ice is less prone to moving due to the freezing overnight temperatures.
Every year, skilled climbing guides improve the path with ladders and ropes to make it easier for the several tourists and climbers who attempt to reach Everest’s summit. The glacier’s steep, jagged surface slides downhill at a rate of several feet each day, heaving and shifting under the weight of gravity and its vast weight.
Deep crevasses can erupt out of nowhere, and massive ice towers, known as “seracs”, can fracture and fall at any time, sending car-sized chunks plummeting down.
The Icefall’s most notorious areas have been dubbed “Popcorn Field” and “the Ballroom of Death” by mountaineers, and guides have been wary of the path across them for years. A section of the glacier ripped away from the mountain, triggering an avalanche of ice that killed 16 Sherpa guides who were transporting clients’ equipment up the mountain in preparation for the spring climbing season’s icefall. It was the deadliest Everest climbing disaster in history.
Since 1963, around 30 climbers have died on the icefall. The majority of them died in avalanches or were crushed by collapsing seracs. When things get too risky, the guides will back away. Himalayan Experience, one of the most well-known Everest guiding companies, halted their climb midway through the season in 2012, citing the icefall as being too risky for the expedition.
Sherpa pathways alter from year to year and must often be constructed numerous times every year as the ice towers come crashing down. Although the icefall is over 3000 meters below the Everest summit, the crashing ice towers make the Khumbu the most dangerous part of Everest.
What Are The Best Ways To Stay Safe While Climbing The Khumbu Icefall?
It is critical to assess your abilities. Take a few days to review your skills before approaching the icefall. Sherpas will offer a brief lesson to practice clipping off and on a fixed rope, a front point on steep ice with crampons, and jumar use. Stay tethered to the fixed rope at all times. This review helps everyone improve their skills and is a wise use of time.
Move as quickly as possible while remaining safe. Allowing speedier climbers to pass you is also a good idea. At least relative safety is the only way to be safe in the Khumbu. Go quickly. During your climb on the icefall, you should not stop for more than a few minutes.
Never go inside the icefall when the sun is shining, as this will heat the ice and cause it to move. Clip into the fixed rope at all times, including on ladders. Climbers usually cross the Khumbu Icefall, a kilometer-long river of ice, at night or early in the morning, wearing headlamps on their helmets.
The route is usually traversed between 3 and 5 AM when the ice blocks and hanging glaciers are stable and have minimal avalanche danger. As the sun warms the mountain during the day, the hanging glaciers melt and the ice begins to disintegrate, posing an avalanche risk. These are the most common safety precautions taken by climbers.
However, keep in mind that these precautions may not be enough to prevent anything unexpected from happening. The 2014 serac awakening happened long before the sunset on the Icefall. It was 6:45 AM, and the sun usually reached the ice at about 10:00 AM. Also, the ice screws that hold the fixed ropes to the ice will melt, destroying the safety net.
The ideal plan is to go quickly, confidently, and have a lot of practice climbing steep snow and ice in crampons. The more experience you have, the safer you will be. The Khumbu Icefall is possibly the most dangerous of all the challenges facing climbers on Mount Everest.
Will A New Path To Mount Everest Help To Avoid The Khumbu Icefall?
A new Everest path aims to make the world’s highest peak a little safer to climb. According to sources, the path avoids the increasingly perilous Khumbu Icefall, removing one of the most dangerous and nerve-wracking sections of the ascent on Nepal’s south side.
Yet to be seen is whether this new Everest path will have an impact on the mountain’s future. However, the Khumbu is becoming increasingly dangerous. The icefall was always notorious for being extremely dangerous, but as the weather warms and the ice melts, the shifting seracs become less solid, making it riskier for climbers to continue with their expedition.
It is wonderful news that may lead to less risky Everest expeditions, it will take time before the route becomes a norm for climbers since it may have unexplored challenges as of yet. However, any route that circumnavigates the perilous Khumbu Icefall is worth exploring.