A controversial plan to install a ladder on Mt. Everest has been met with a less than enthusiastic response from the mountaineering community. The mountain guides behind the proposal say that the ladder will help to alleviate traffic jams near the summit, while purists claim that it will detract from the overall challenge of the climb.
The plan was first made public this past weekend when Dawa Steven Sherpa, a prominent mountain guide and member of the Expedition Operators Association in Nepal, revealed that the organization was considering installing a ladder at the Hillary Step, a crucial point in the climb on Everest’s South Side. Named after Sir Edmund Hillary, who was the first to scale it, the Hillary Step is located at 28,750 feet. The 40-foot rock wall has been the cause of bottlenecks in recent years as climbers attempt to negotiate the tricky route while wearing crampons and other heavy climbing gear. Since only one person can be on the ropes at any given time, others end up standing around watching and waiting for their turn. This can be especially dangerous due to the thin air, cold temperatures and weather conditions that have been known to change abruptly.
According to Dawa, the ladder would only be used by climbers who are descending, which would have little to no impact on the level of challenge related to the climb. It would simply direct the traffic heading down in a slightly different direction, thus eliminating congestion and diminishing traffic jams.But opponents of the plan say that those coming to the mountain should already know how to safely climb a relatively easy technical section such as the Hillary Step. They argue that the ladder will enable even more people to attempt Everest, bring more inexperienced and untested climbers to the mountain. Critics say that it could possibly even lead to further crowding in the future.
It should be noted that ladders are already used on certain sections of Everest. For instance, climbers on the South Side use them to traverse the Khumbu Icefall, a treacherous section that would be nearly impossible to pass through without the aid of a ladder. On the North Side of the mountain, which falls inside China controlled Tibet, there is a permanent ladder installed at a place called the Second Step. That rock face is far more difficult than the Hillary Step however and without the ladder there, almost no one would successfully reach the top along that route.
Personally, I feel that if Nepal truly wants to make the mountain safer they should limit the number of permits that are issued each year. That won’t happen however, as the permits bring in a lot of money to a country that is otherwise extremely poor. Given the alternatives, I’d say adding the ladder is a wise move.