Everest Climbers to Face 'Ballroom of Death'

Established late due to unstable conditions, this year's climbing route brings added risk
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 25, 2024 1:01 PM CDT
Everest Climbers to Face 'Ballroom of Death'
A bird flies with Mount Everest seen in the background from Namche Bajar, Solukhumbu district, Nepal, May 27, 2019.   (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha, File)

Every spring, the so-called "Icefall Doctors" leave Everest base camp and begin marking the year's official climbing route up to Camp 1. These specialized Nepalese climbers have what's been called "the most dangerous job on earth," leading the way through the Khumbu Icefall, a treacherous section responsible for numerous deaths. And this year, it's been particularly challenging. Little snowfall and warm temperatures left Khumbu's notorious ice towers and bridges unstable, slowing the workers' path and "leading to a major delay in opening the icefall corridor," Outside reports.

The eight Sherpas who set out March 8 intended to follow a path established in 2023, but they were repeatedly forced to retreat. The ice "was too fragile and risky," one of the group tells Outside. Deutsche Welle describes new crevasses too wide to be crossed with ladders. The team finally completed the route to Camp 1 on April 17, following a route used in 2017, but it will mean extra challenges for climbers. The route is risky, passing through the icefall's "ballroom of death," where a mighty glacier hangs above "like a sword," per DW. The Icefall Doctors say at least five especially dangerous spots along the route should be passed as quickly as possible.

The perilous route will take two hours longer to traverse than other recently used routes, per Outside. The delays in establishing the route, meanwhile, have pushed back the official start of the climbing season by 12 days. While some expedition operators say their climbing schedules haven't changed, some Sherpas say they're rushing to get supplies to the higher camps and will likely have to forgo rest days. Some are even calling for the government to allow helicopter transfers of gear and food. "How can you send one Sherpa 20 times through the Khumbu Icefall when it is this risky?" asks Tashi Sherpa of the 14 Peaks Expedition company, per Outside.

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"I very much hope that we don't break last year's sad record of deaths on Everest again," German climber Norrdine Nouar, who hopes to scale the mountain without extra oxygen, tells the Abenteuer Berg blog. Eighteen people died climbing Everest in 2023, when a record 478 climbing permits were issued. "This year, the number of permits is a good 20% lower compared to the same time in 2023," per DW, though China has opened up its side of the mountain to foreign expeditions for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic. On the Nepalese side, climbers face new rules requiring them to have tracking chips sewn into their jackets. (They'll also have to carry out their poop.)

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