Climbers on the Khumbu Icefall (Image Credit: McKay Savage)

Climbers on the Khumbu Icefall (Image Credit: McKay Savage)

In the wake of the single deadliest incident in Everest’s history, Nepalese officials have announced that the mountain’s climbing route will be shifted for the 2015 season.

In April 2014, 16 Nepalese climbers were crushed beneath a collapsing ice column in the mountain’s treacherous Khumbu Icefall. The tragedy was the final straw for the native climbers, whom mountaineers rely on for guidance and support and, oftentimes, as substitute pack animals on the deadly mountain. The sherpas boycotted, which led to the cancellation of further expeditions in the 2014 season.

Everest officials have now shifted the route away from the Khumbu Icefall toward the glacier’s central section. This route was actually in use for most of the mountain’s history (between 1953 and 1990) before it was changed to pass through the more dangerous Icefall.

The Icefall is so named for the towers of ice, known as seracs, that can spontaneously crack and fall. In this area, the ice can shift radically, opening crevasses or dropping massive shards of glacier with little to no warning. Climbers refer to the area as “the ballroom of death.”

According to Ang Dorji Sherpa, chairman of the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee, an organization authorized to set the route for Everest expeditions, conditions have now made Khumbu untenable for climbing. “We think the risk of avalanche in the left part of the Khumbu Icefall is growing and we are moving the route to the centre where there is almost no such danger,” he said.

Canadian avalanche specialist and Everest guide Tom Rippel has written that climate change is partly to blame. “As a professional member of the Canadian Avalanche Association I have my educated concerns,” he wrote shortly after the April tragedy. “The mountain has been deteriorating rapidly the past three years due global warming and the breakdown in the Khumbu ice-fall is dramatic, especially at the upper icefall. We need to learn more about what is going on up there. Each day we sit and listen to the groaning and crashing of the glacier.”

Around the same time, climber and environmental science professor John All told The Atlantic, “Climate change closed Mt. Everest this year.”

“The ice is melting at unprecedented rates,” he said, “and [that] greatly increases the risk to climbers.”

The BBC reports that almost 40 climbers have died in the Khumbu Icefall, most of whom were support staff for expeditions. About 250 people have died trying to climb Everest since 1953.

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