Climbers Create New Khumbu Icefall Route

Avoids path where avalanche killed 16 Sherpas in 2014

Apr 6, 2015
Outside Magazine
Climbers Create New Khumbu Icefall Route

The line on the right is the new route; the line on the left is the route from last year.    Madison Mountaineering

This year, climbers on Mount Everest will use a new route through the Khumbu Icefall, the fast-moving and highly-unpredictable foot of the Khumbu Glacier that climbers must pass through on their way from Base Camp to Camp I, Everest guide Garrett Madison told Outside on Monday. The route was established late last week by the Icefall Doctors, a team of eight Nepalis who have been tasked with setting a new route up through the notoriously dangerous Icefall since the late 1990s. 

The new route avoids the path used last year when an avalanche killed 16 Sherpas in the Icefall. When the climbing teams currently at Base Camp begin the approach to Camp I, which could be as early as next week, they will use this new route.

The route through the Icefall varies from year to year, as the Icefall Doctors seek to find a way through the Icefall's many crevasses and seracs that is both safe (relatively speaking) and expedient. As Outside reported in its May issue, for the past decade, that route has stayed to the left side of the Icefall, where the constantly shifting seracs and crevasses move at a slower pace. But the left side is prone to avalanches from Everest's West Shoulder. This year's route goes up the middle of the Icefall, avoiding avalanche danger and instead relying on more ladders to clear large gaps in the route. 

"It appears that climbers will have to negotiate broken ice as before, and perhaps more vertical ladders," wrote Garrett Madison, owner of Madison Mountaineering, wrote on his blog this morning. "There is at least one section that has four vertical ladders tied together to ascend up a very large ice cliff."

While this route is unique, it's similar to a route used in 2001, when the Icefall Doctors were able to navigate up the center of the Icefall, avoiding both the left side's avalanche danger and the risk of collapsing seracs from Nuptse that plagues the right side of the Icefall. While the Doctors often examine the middle area for a safe path through, the gaps created by crevasses and seracs can make it difficult to find in the short time they're given before climbers arrive. (Last year, they spent four days looking for a path through the middle of the Icefall before abandoning the search and moving the route to the left side.) Before the season started, Pete Athans, a veteran guide who trains the Icefall Doctors, told Outside that the Doctors would use helicopter- and dolly-mounted radar devices to create a moving map of the Icefall to find a safer route.

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