NEW DELHI — On Everest, everybody knows that the Icefall is dangerous. They’ve known it for generations, since the first great Everest mountaineer, George Mallory, turned away from the Khumbu Icefall in 1921, insisting it was impossible to pass.
It is a river of ice, a kilometer (half mile) or so of constantly shifting glacier punctuated by deep crevasses and overhanging immensities of ice that can be as large as 10-story buildings. It can move two meters (six feet) in just one day. Crossing it can take 12 hours.
In the Khumbu Icefall, crevasses can open — or close — without warning. Ropes can be snapped by the moving ice, ladders broken, bodies crushed. Those looming glaciers can break off in a moment, setting off avalanches that send thousands of tons of ice down the mountain.
That is what happened last week, when a piece of glacier sheared away from the mountain, setting off an avalanche of ice that killed 16 Sherpa guides as they ferried clients’ equipment up the mountain.
“It’s always something we fear,” said Adrian Ballinger, a high-altitude mountaineering guide who has climbed Everest six times, and who is taking clients up the mountain again this year through the Icefall. “This (disaster) didn’t surprise those of us who spend a lot of time on Everest,” he said. “We’ve been living on borrowed time.”
But if you want to get to the summit of Mount Everest, you probably need to go through the Khumbu Icefall.
That is because the Icefall is the only way to reach the comparatively easy South Col route up Everest. That makes it impossible to resist for plenty of people.
Hundreds of people now pass through the Icefall every year, pushed along by a mountaineering machine designed to take wealthy amateurs to the summit, with climbing trips costing upwards of $75,000 per person.
“If it wasn’t the tallest mountain in the world, you would never put yourself on a glacier this active,” said Ballinger.