In wake of the tragic 2014 season, which killed 16 Sherpa guides in the most deadly single accident in Everest history, the Nepali government has decided to change the established route through the Khumbu Icefall for the spring climbing season of 2015.
The Khumbu Icefall is considered the most difficult section of the South Col route up Everest. The icefall is located at the bottom of the Khumbu glacier, where the glacier passes over a series of cliffs, causing it to break into massive ice blocks, riddled with crevasses. To make matters worse, the terrain is constantly changing—seracs collapsing and new crevasses forming—as the glacier flows downhill.
Since the 1990s, the path through the Khumbu Icefall connecting Base Camp (17,500 feet) to Camp 1 (19,500 feet)—which consists of fixed ropes and ladders—has weaved its way through the maze of ice along the “western shoulder” of the icefall, taking an easier variation than the more direct, original route. But due to environmental changes causing increased avalanche danger, and the Sherpa strike after last year’s fatal avalanche, ropes and ladders will now return to the original route in hopes of improved safety.
The original route is relatively more technical and time consuming than the western shoulder, but is more stable and further away from the probable path of falling debris from overhanging glaciers above the western edge of the icefall.
Throughout a typical climbing season, a porter might pass through the icefall 30-40 times, increasing his time under the seracs and therefore risk of being caught in an avalanche. According to BBC, nearly 40 climbers, most from the Sherpa community, have been killed in the Khumbu Icefall alone, and both Nepali and foreign expedition operators welcome the change.
One demand by the Sherpas not granted in the protests was the use of helicopters to ferry loads of supplies and equipment to Camp One, which would greatly limit the number of trips they must make through the icefall.
Due to the fragile nature of the mountain environment, Nepal’s law prohibits all helicopter use above Base Camp, even for rescue. The Nepali government would not make an exception despite the protests of the Sherpa community.