Last year, Outside reported that the Hillary Step, the iconic feature 200 feet below Everest’s summit, had been fundamentally altered by the 2015 earthquake that shook the mountain. The reporter based his findings on first-hand accounts from mountaineering guides Garrett Madison and Ben Jones. But rumors of the Step’s demise began before that.
Early in the 2016 season, five-time south side summiter David Liano posted on his blog that the Step was gone. Then, last year, guide Tim Mosedale posted on Facebook: “The Hillary Step is no more.” Finally, the Nepalese Government weighed in. Gyanendra Shrestha, from the Nepal Tourism Board, and Ang Tshering Sherpa, the President of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, were quoted in CNN saying that Mosedale was mistaken. Shrestha said the Step had just been completely covered by snow so it “made it easier for climbers.”
This year, I reached out to several long-time guides and asked them to take a picture of what the Step looks like now. I received a shocking reply from one, who wished to remain anonymous:
We’re not supposed to be talking about the Hillary Step. I guess they have been telling westerners in the ministry briefing not to talk to the media about it. That has to be the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard out of the ministry.
The government of Nepal, of course, says the rule is in good faith. “Our intention is not to stop the dissemination of news,” Dinesh Bhattarai, the Tourism Department chief, told the Kathmandu Post. “However, for some controversial issues, prior approval should be obtained from the government.”
In my view, it looks like the Ministry continues to believe that the Hillary Step—with all of the delays and safety issues it causes—is more of a marketing tool than a liability. If it changed, it changed—that’s reality. Mountains change. As proof, here’s a photo of the Hillary Step of old, an offwidth crack ascending a steep boulder:
And here’s an image of the Step in 2018, taken by guide Casey Grom:
One of the reasons I wanted to get this photo was to show the silliness of the Nepal Ministry of Tourism telling climbers and guides this year that they were not allowed to talk about the Hillary Step. While this is an iconic part of an historic route, being transparent about the change only enhances their credibility, otherwise they will continue to struggle to get rules through that will increase safety, reduce crowds and deaths.
From here on out, maybe we just call it the Hillary Stairs.