What happened to Sir Ed's famous step?
The Hillary . . . ramp?
Climbers returning from the summit of the world's tallest mountain say its most feared barrier, a colossal wall named for Sir Edmund Hillary, is no more.
The Hillary Step is a 12-metre vertical rock face near the summit of Mt Everest.
It is the last and most difficult challenge for climbers before they reach the peak.
Hillary was the first to conquer the step in 1953, shortly followed by Tenzing Norgay. He called it "the most formidable obstacle on the ridge" and worried it would derail their historic climb.
But the step is now "unrecognisable", climbers returning from the summit say.
It no longer requires climbing equipment and is now a leisurely stroll through thick snow.
A snowy Hillary step, for the first time in years the step itself wasn't climbed rather the snow on the right pic.twitter.com/biQpILqzaI— Kenton Cool (@KentonCool) May 20, 2016
Some have attributed its disappearance to the devastating Nepal earthquake in April last year, which killed more than 8000 people and caused significant damage.
Photos from climbers show that boulders from the step appear to have slipped. It has also been covered in thick snow, giving climbers an easy walk to the summit.
Dawa Steven Sherpa, a tourism operator in Nepal who spoke at a conference in Mt Cook last week, said other Sherpa were reporting that the step was gone.
They attributed it to the earthquake, he said. The step was now "more of a ramp."
Climbers have stayed away from Everest for two years, due to an avalanche in 2014 and the earthquake last year.
Others who climbed Everest in recent months also noticed the step was different.
They were collected in a blog post by mountain blogger Mark Horrell, who compared before and after images of the step.
Horrell wrote that parts of the step "unmistakably appear to have moved".
Another blogger, Alan Arnette, wrote that he had spoken to Sherpas and climbers who believed the dramatic change was due to snow rather than rockfall.
New Zealand based mountain guide Guy Cotter said he had heard reports that the step had changed, but had not seen it himself.
The step has gained notoriety in recent years as a choke point for increasing numbers of climbers.
A National Geographic photo in 2012 showed dozens waiting at the step to complete their ascents.
Authorities considered installing a permanent ladder to make climbing the step quicker.