Editorial: The biggest challenge

21:21, Mar 20 2014

It's a pretty bizarre state of affairs, I'm sure you'll agree, when consideration has to be given to installing ladders on the Hillary Step, the last major obstacle before the summit of the world's highest mountain, Mt Everest.

That strange scenario was reported in a brief on the Herald's international page yesterday.

A Nepalese government spokesman said steel ladders and extra fixed ropes may be bolted on to the Hillary Step, which is 12 metres high and 91m below the summit of Everest.

At face value, it's a move that must surely cheapen the achievement of reaching the top of the 8848m mountain.

However, it's also a measure of just how busy and overcrowded the mountain has become since Sir Edmund Hillary, after whom the step is named, and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay "knocked the bastard off" in 1953.

Naturally that overcrowding, in the limited weather windows available to reach the summit, increases the level of risk for everyone up there, and has contributed to a number of deaths, so the move makes sense from a safety perspective.


Overcrowding is something Timaru-born Chris Jensen Burke, who has already climbed Everest, along with a series of other 8000m-plus mountains, surely won't experience on the next major challenge she faces.

Because K2, a couple of hundred metres lower than Everest, is viewed as the most dangerous of the world's climbs.

The 45-year-old, now based in Sydney, acknowledges that, but also says she's now at the point where she is "comfortable in my own mind" about the daunting challenge.

It's taken a lot of major climbs to get her to that point. She's reached the summits of the highest mountains on each of the seven continents, and last year climbed four mountains above 8000m, a remarkable feat.

So she certainly has the requisite experience to attempt the toughest climb there is.

It's surely the mental aspect of her makeup, though, that is more important. Given the danger inherent in facing ‘the beast', going in uncertain about the prospects of success would presumably add to that danger.

Three of the nine women to have conquered K2 died on the descent. That's the kind of knowledge she'll need to keep close to remind her to be careful, but not so close that it hampers her prospects of reaching the summit.

Here's holding thumbs for you, Chris.

The Timaru Herald