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Second Step History

Everest, north side, Second Step history. A big Chinese team reported in 1960 that they had reached the top after scaling the Step by one man standing on another’s shoulders—and getting badly frostbitten in the process. At the time there was widespread disbelief in the West, and when in 1975 another Chinese expedition climbed the same route, they put a ladder up the Step to make it easier to climb. Ever since, all summiters on this route have used it or its recent replacement.

As Anker and Houlding showed that the Step can be surmounted without ladder and ropes, it is theoretically possible that Mallory and Irvine did so too.

But Anker does not believe Mallory or Irvine could have gotten to the top in 1924. There were no fixed ropes, let alone any ladder, in place for them; their clothes were too thin for the extreme cold at the highest altitudes—Conrad wore such clothes at 7,500m and had no desire to climb in them—and the gear available in 1924 was not nearly as good as it is today. He could have added another reason: climbing skills had not been developed to today’s higher standards. He feels it’s amazing that they got to the Yellow Band above 8,100 meters, where Irvine’s ice axe was found in 1933. All the way? Not likely.

Elizabeth Hawley, Honorary Member, AAC, Nepal