It's almost certain that Mt Everest just got 'easier' to climb after the Hillary Step crumbled

Climbers navigate the Hillary Step in 2013. Picture: Getty Images

Climbers are now certain a notoriously difficult final challenge on Mt Everest has disappeared.

The Hillary Step, an outcrop made mostly of four boulders, was a near-vertical challenge just 70 metres below Everest’s summit.

At just under seven metres, it was named after Sir Edmund Hillary, who along with Tenzing Norgay, used it to complete their historic first successful ascent of the mountain in 1953.

Since then, thousands of climbers have negotiated it – in single file. That’s caused a bottleneck right in one of the most dangerous places to be exposed on Mt Everest. Climber Dave Hahn, who has made the summit 15 times, told Outside he has stood in line for up to hour, “waiting for over 100 people to come off the summit” before he could attempt it himself.

But now, it’s looking more and more like he won’t have to wait any more. Recent pictures may have proved a controversial theory that the Hillary Step has gone. Or at least, the biggest boulder of the four, leaving a wide path to the top at a much more friendly 45-degree slope.

It’s controversial because Nepalese officials have denied it for the past 12 months. The possibility the step was gone was first raised last year but couldn’t be proven due to the heavy snow underfoot.

But in May, as the snow thinned, British mountaineer Tim Mosedale posted this on Twitter:

Again, Nepalese officials denied the claim. Its Ministry of Tourism claimed:

“The misconception may have appeared as a new route to the summit has been constructed some 5 metres to the right of the original route.”

On his Facebook page, Mosedale said his team used the route on the right “because The Hillary Step wasn’t there and we ascended a snow ridge instead”.

Outside asked American climber Garrett Madison, who completed the summit on May 23, for his latest shot of the Step, and similar shot he took in 2011. Then they asked Hahn to review the images.

You can see bigger images side-by-side and judge for yourself on Outside’s page here.

“The photos show pretty conclusively that a large mass of rock is missing,” Hahn said. “I’d say that (main) boulder is absolutely gone.”

It’s likely the boulder rumbled off the mountain during the large earthquake that hit Nepal in 2015. The question now – is Everest a little bit easier to climb?

Madison says yes, Hahn says no. Climbing Mt Everest is still climbing Mt Everest.

Read more about the collapse of the Hillary Step at Outside.

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