khumbu icefall

Dangerous Khumbu Icefall

A River of Ice that is Melting

Everything begins in everything beginning with Khumbu Icefall, a 10 mile/17km ice river that starts high up on Lhotse Face around 25,000’/7,600m. It is the Khumbu Icefall is the section between Everest Base Camp 17,300’/5270m and close to the point where Camp 1 is usually located, 19,500’/5943m.once it leaves Lhotse it defines its Western Cwm for approximately 2 miles before descending rapidly to form an icefall known as the Khumbu icefall bodies for 2.5 miles. In the vicinity of Everest Base Camp (EBC) the glacier forms an abrupt southern bend and extends for another 6 miles/9.6km up to 16,000’/4,900m.

The Khumbu Icefall differs in its width, ranging from a half mile to about a third of a mile/500m.As like all glaciers the Khumbu can move up to 3’/1m per day, in the middle but is barely moving at its borders due to the force of friction with the walls of rock. The glacier’s top is faster than the bottom because of friction against the earth. This dynamic of slow and fast moving sections, as well as the steep drop that form deep crevasses. Some are more than 150’/45m in depth and atop glacier ice seracs that are more than 30’/9m tall.

Melting

According to Kathmandu’s mountain research institute ICIMOD The Khumbu Glacier is melting but not as rapidly as other glaciers due to its high altitude. The Khumbu Glacier is among the most awe-inspiring glacier. in the world. It is thought to be receding by about 65’/20m a year. It also reduced to 3,100’/940m during the 1960s between the 1960s and 2001.The glacier has dwindled by 40-50’/12-15m throughout the majority of its length.

Everest Base Camp is lower than it is today because of the melting of the ice. In 1953 when Hillary and Tenzing summited, EBC was about 17,454’/5320m; today it is 17,322’/5280m.Between 1962 and 2002 the Icefall thinned by an average of 56’/17m, about a rate of 1.3’/39cm per year. The long-time Everest guide Russell Brice commented in my recent interview with him that this melting could create the creation of a safer Icefall to climbers.

 khumbu icefall
khumbu icefall

However, he also said to me that Western Cwm may one day become the biggest obstacle for South Col. South Col route: But on Everest viewing photographs at the summit, it is apparent to me that there is a sign that Icefall in the area between BC between BC1 C1 is getting more manageable and, in some ways, safer. Also, it appears that a number hang glaciers that are above the Icefall are moving backwards and appear to have less activity than we saw in 2012, which could be explained with the hot temperatures that prevail at this altitude.

This is the First Icefall Climbs

Early Everest Khumbu icefall Crevasse Crossing. Image courtesy National GeographicGeorge Mallory in search of an approach to the top of Everest is believed to have seen an Icefall in the 1920s. He said the icefall was ” terribly steep and broken all around the way up to Everest from Tibet is much easier” 5 so he shifted his focus towards Tibet.

It was not until 1950 that Charlie Houston and Bill Tilman were part of the British expedition to look for an alternative route to Nepal to the Khumbu Icefall was considered to be feasible. In 1951, a different British team led by Eric Shipton climbed thru the Icefall but stopped short of the top because of the wide crevasse.

To traverse the crevasses the first expeditions utilized long tree trunks that were lowered from the tree line when they had run off from ladders.A Swiss team in 1952 was able to overcome the obstacle by climbing through the crevasse, and then traversing a treacherous snow bridge. They made it to 8500m using the current Southeast Ridge route but failed to reach the summit. Of course, there was John Hunt’s 1953 British expedition made the first summit on that exact route.

The Risks

There are a variety of dangers in the Icefall which have claimed the lives of people. I employed the Himalayan Database to look at the deaths without illness that occurred between 17,500’/5400m to 19,500’/5940m those that occurred in the Icefall itself. There were 44 deaths within the Icefall which is 25 percent of the 176 total death deaths that occurred from the Nepal side from 1953 until the year 2016.

 khumbu icefall
khumbu icefall

The 44 deaths were broken down into:

  • In the event of a crevasse falling into Six deaths, or fourteen percent
  • The Icefall section collapsed, causing Nine deaths, or percentage
  • Avalanche on the Icefall 29 deaths or 66 percent

Although I do not cite specific deaths in order to assist others, I also offer my condolences and sympathies to all friends, family and teammates of the tragic occasions.

Crevasse 6 or 14 percent

A fall into a crevasse very common in mountains that range from Mont Blanc to Rainer to Everest. I was in one below Camp 1 in 2002! On Everest the normal procedure is to secure the fixed rope all the time when moving up and down the Icefall in order that, should you walk onto a snow bridge and slip into a crevasse, or fall off on a ladder and fall into a crevasse, the rope will grab you. Unfortunately, many falls that fall into crevasses resulted from the failure of not having properly clipped in.

In 2005 an individual from the western part of the country fell into a crevasse as he was traversing a snow bridge that was soft. Team members of the Adventure Consultant were present at the time of the accident and were in agreement: “It was clear that the climber wasn’t anchored to the fixed ropes at the moment of his fall; consequently, a slip that could have been stopped quickly resulted in a fatal tumble over a 10-meter drop.

Icefall Collapse 9 or 21 9 or 21

The second risk is being struck by a collapsed ice structure inside the Icefall. There are many tall estracs (ice towers) which can collapse when the Icefall changes or an entire section may collapse under a climber .keep in mind that they can move up to one meter per day, and it can change abruptly without warning.

This isn’t very frequent however, it can cause deaths. An example of this was in 1972, where an Australian climber, who was a part of Chris Bonnington’s British Everest SW Face Expedition was transferring loads. He climbed into the Icefall and was never found. A search team located an extensive part of the Icefall that was collapsed, and it was believed that he was within that region when the collapse occurred. In 2008 the body of his was discovered in the bottom of the Icefall.

 

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