South Col Route
- Added By: Terrill Thompson
- Date added: Jan 29, 2017
- Route Distance: 63.00 km (39.15 miles)
This is the most common climbing route on Everest, in Nepal. It was the approximate route used by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in the first recognized successful climb in 1953.
The approach is on foot. Teams typically gather and get organized in Kathmandu, then fly 60 miles to Lukla, then trek 6-8 days to base camp. The trek passes through Phakding, Namche Bazaar, and several other small villages, often with rest days and acclimatization hikes and climbs in some of the villages, before arriving at base camp. Base Camp is located at the toe of the Khumbu Icefall.
Unlike the Northeast Ridge Route, serious climbing on the South Col Route begins immediately out of Base Camp as climbers must negotiate the dynamic, daunting, and dangerous Khumbu Icefall. Seracs, crevasses and shifting blocks of ice make the icefall one of the most dangerous sections of the route. At the start of climbing season, sherpas set up ropes and ladders in the icefall while most climbers hang out in Base Camp and acclimatize. The following additional details are quoted from Wikipedia: From Camp I, climbers make their way up the Western Cwm to the base of the Lhotse face, where Camp II or Advanced Base Camp (ABC) is established at 6,500 m (21,300 ft). The Western Cwm is a flat, gently rising glacial valley, marked by huge lateral crevasses in the centre, which prevent direct access to the upper reaches of the Cwm. Climbers are forced to cross on the far right near the base of Nuptse to a small passageway known as the "Nuptse corner". The Western Cwm is also called the "Valley of Silence" as the topography of the area generally cuts off wind from the climbing route. The high altitude and a clear, windless day can make the Western Cwm unbearably hot for climbers.From ABC, climbers ascend the Lhotse face on fixed ropes up to Camp III, located on a small ledge at 7,470 m (24,500 ft). From there, it is another 500 metres to Camp IV on the South Col at 7,920 m (26,000 ft). From Camp III to Camp IV, climbers are faced with two additional challenges: the Geneva Spur and the Yellow Band. The Geneva Spur is an anvil shaped rib of black rock named by the 1952 Swiss expedition. Fixed ropes assist climbers in scrambling over this snow-covered rock band. The Yellow Band is a section of interlayered marble, phyllite, and semischist, which also requires about 100 metres of rope for traversing it.On the South Col, climbers enter the death zone. Climbers typically only have a maximum of two or three days that they can endure at this altitude for making summit bids. Clear weather and low winds are critical factors in deciding whether to make a summit attempt. If weather does not cooperate within these short few days, climbers are forced to descend, many all the way back down to Base Camp.From Camp IV, climbers begin their summit push around midnight with hopes of reaching the summit (still another 1,000 metres above) within 10 to 12 hours. Climbers first reach "The Balcony" at 8,400 m (27,600 ft), a small platform where they can rest and gaze at peaks to the south and east in the early light of dawn. Continuing up the ridge, climbers are then faced with a series of imposing rock steps which usually forces them to the east into waist-deep snow, a serious avalanche hazard. At 8,750 m (28,700 ft), a small table-sized dome of ice and snow marks the South Summit.From the South Summit, climbers follow the knife-edge southeast ridge along what is known as the "Cornice traverse", where snow clings to intermittent rock. This is the most exposed section of the climb as a misstep to the left would send one 2,400 m (7,900 ft) down the southwest face, while to the immediate right is the 3,050 m (10,010 ft) Kangshung Face. At the end of this traverse is an imposing 12 m (39 ft) rock wall, known as the Hillary Step, at 8,760 m (28,740 ft).Hillary and Tenzing were the first climbers to ascend this step and they did it with primitive ice climbing equipment and ropes. Nowadays, climbers ascend this step using fixed ropes previously set up by Sherpas. Once above the step, it is a comparatively easy climb to the top on moderately angled snow slopes—though the exposure on the ridge is extreme, especially while traversing large cornices of snow. With increasing numbers of people climbing the mountain in recent years, the Step has frequently become a bottleneck, with climbers forced to wait significant amounts of time for their turn on the ropes, leading to problems in getting climbers efficiently up and down the mountain. After the Hillary Step, climbers also must traverse a loose and rocky section that has a large entanglement of fixed ropes that can be troublesome in bad weather. Climbers typically spend less than half an hour at the summit to allow time to descend to Camp IV before darkness sets in, to avoid serious problems with afternoon weather, or because supplemental oxygen tanks run out.
There is one other route available for this peak. Check it out on the Mount Everest Routes Page