Everest's Hillary Step a 'chaotic mess'

01:43, May 23 2013
Ed hillary
ON TOP: Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary after their triumph.

One of the only geographic features named after New Zealand's Sir Edmund Hillary has become a chaotic and crowded place complete with frozen bodies and trash, National Geographic magazine reports.

Next Wednesday marks the 60th anniversary of Sir Ed and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay conquering Mt Everest.

To reach the top, the mountaineers had to climb the last obstacle, a 12 metre rock wall, now called the Hillary Step.

But climbers doing it now face a crowded, bad tempered two and a half hour wait for their turn to reach the summit.

National Geographic says that Everest had become "an icon for everything that is wrong with climbing".

Writer Mark Jenkins said that last year the top of Everest was so crowded he couldn't find a place to stand.

"Meanwhile, down below at the Hillary Step the lines were so long that some people going up waited more than two hours, shivering, growing weak - this even though the weather was excellent," he said.

"If these throngs of climbers had been caught in a storm, as others were in 1996, the death toll could have been staggering."

All the way up the final stage climbers are forced to move at exactly the same speed as everyone else, regardless of strength or ability.

"In the swirling darkness before midnight, I gazed up at the string of lights - climbers' headlamps, rising into the black sky. Above me were more than a hundred slow-moving climbers."

He said they were attached to a single "ratty rope" which if it had broken, would have seen two dozen climbers fall to their deaths.

Jenkins reported the bodies of dead climbers still littered the scene.

At Hillary Step they passed another corpse, "his stubbly face was gray, his mouth open as if moaning from the pain of death".

National Geographic said almost 4000 people have reached the summit since Hillary and Norgay.

"Clearly the world's highest peak is broken," it said.

"But if you talk to the people who know it best, they'll tell you it's not beyond repair."

New Zealander Russell Brice, 60, who runs Himalayan Experience, was described as running a tight ship on the mountain, and they left a small footprint, removing all of their excrement and rubbish.

But the magazine said in its June issue that this had not much impact higher up.

Camp II, at 21,240 feet, was particularly disgusting and Camp IV was little better, with the tattered skeletons of abandoned tents snapping in the wind.

"We can manage the numbers if all the operators talk to each other," Brice insisted.

"It's all about good communication."

To prevent crowding on the mountain, some have proposed limiting not only the total number of permits per season but also the size of each team to no more than 10 clients per team.

Another New Zealander, Guy Cotter of Adventure Consultants was sceptical.

"That will not happen," he told National Geographic.

"Everest is big business for Nepal, and they will never turn down the money."

Jenkins said that despite the problems Everest still stood alone.

"The mountain is so high and so indifferent it calls upon every climber, at one time or another, to rise to his or her better self," he said.

Climbers would keep coming back.

"It's not simply about reaching the summit but about showing respect for the mountain and enjoying the journey," he said.

"Now it's up to us to restore a sense of sanity to the top of the world."


HARD GOING: Climbers traversing the Hillary Step on Mt Everest.