An River of Ice that is Melting

All of it begins in everything beginning with Khumbu Glacier, a 10 mile/17km ice river that starts high up on Lhotse Face around 25,000’/7,600m. Khumbu Icefall Khumbu Icefall is the section between Everest Base Camp 17,300’/5270m and the area below the area where Camp 1 is usually located, 19,500’/5943m.once it leaves Lhotse the glacier forms its Western Cwm for around 2 miles, before dropping dramatically to form Khumbu Icefall. Khumbu Icefall for 2.5 miles. In the vicinity of Everest Base Camp (EBC) The glacier creates an abrupt bend in the southern part of the mountain and extends for another 6 miles/9.6km to reach 16,000’/4900m. The Icefall differs in its width, ranging from a half mile to about a third of a mile/500m.As as all glaciers, the Khumbu can move at times, 3’/1m a day, in the middle and barely moves at the edge due to the friction with the rock walls. The glacier’s top has a greater speed than the lower because of friction with the earth. It is this combination of slow and fast moving sections, as well as the steep drop that forms the deep crevassesthat are up to 150’/45m deep, and the imposing the ice estracs to over 30’/9m in height.

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 glaci on Earth. It is believed to be retreating around 65’/20m per year . It has decreased by 3,100’/940m in the 1960s between the 1960s and 2001.The glacier has shrunk by 40-50’/12-15m throughout the majority of its length. Everest Base Camp is lower in the present due to 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 that climbers can enjoy. However, he also said that to me that Western Cwm may one day be the main obstacle on South Col. South Col route:But on Everest viewing images at the summit, it is apparent to me that there is a sign that Icefall in the area between BC C1 and BC C1 is getting more manageable and, in some ways, safer. Also, it appears that a number hang glaciers over the Icefall are tilting backwards and appear more inactive than we witnessed in 2012. and this could be explained with the hot temperatures at this elevation.

It’s the First Icefall Climbs

Early Everest Crevasse Crossing. Image courtesy National GeographicGeorge Mallory in search of an approach to the top of Everest is believed to have observed an Icefall in the early 1920s , and stated that the icefall was ” terribly steep and broken all around the way up to Everest from Tibet is much more straightforward” 5 therefore he decided to shift his efforts 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 and Khumbu Icefall was considered to be feasible. In the year 1951, another 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 large tree trunks lowered from the tree line when they had run off from ladders.A Swiss team in 1952 conquered the challenge by climbing through the crevasse, and then traversing a dangerous snow bridge. They reached 8500m by with today’s Southeast Ridge route but failed to reach the summit. Of course, it was John Hunt’s 1953 British expedition made the first summit by using the same route.

The dangers

There are numerous dangers within 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 which were within the Icefall in its entirety. There were 44 deaths during the Icefall which is 25 percent of the total 176 death deaths that occurred from the Nepal side between 1953 and the year 2016.

The 44 deaths were broken down into:

  • Crevasses that fall into crevasses 7 deaths or percent
  • The Icefall section collapsed, causing Nine deaths, or percent
  • Avalanche on the Icefall 29 deaths or 66 percent

Although I do not cite specific deaths in order to assist others, I 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 of them above Camp 1 in 2002! On Everest the normal procedure is to secure the fixed rope all the time during your journey up or down the Icefall to ensure that, if you slip on a slippery 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 are the result 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 the time of his fall. therefore, 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 affected by an ice structure that collapses inside the Icefall. There are many tall estracs (ice towers) that could collapse when the Icefall shifts , or the entire section could collapse under a climber . be aware that it could move one meter per day, and it can change abruptly without warning. This isn’t common, however it could 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 transporting loads. He was able to enter the Icefall however he was never found. The search team discovered an extensive section of the Icefall which had collapsed. They it was believed that he was within that location at the time it occurred. In 2008 the body of his was discovered near the bottom of the Icefall.

 

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