Mount Everest is the highest peak in the world, standing at a towering height of 29,032 feet (8,849 meters) above sea level. Located on the border between Nepal and Tibet, climbing Mount Everest has been a dream of many mountaineers around the world for decades. While the South Col Route is the most popular and well-traveled way to climb the mountain, there are several other routes that offer different challenges and rewards.
Among these routes, the West Ridge Route is considered the most difficult and challenging way to climb Mount Everest. In this beginner’s guide, we will explore what makes the West Ridge Route so difficult and why it is not recommended for beginners.
We will also look at the history of the route, the technical challenges it poses, and the risks that climbers face while attempting to summit the world’s highest peak via the West Ridge Route.
The South Col Route
The South Col Route is the most popular and easiest route to climb Mount Everest, but it is not the most difficult. This route starts from the south side of Mount Everest in Nepal and is also known as the Southeast Ridge route. It was first climbed by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on May 29, 1953.
This route is less technical, and most climbers use fixed ropes to ascend the steep sections. The South Col Route is also less exposed to high winds and has more suitable campsites, making it the most popular route. However, there is another route that is much harder, and that is the West Ridge Route.
The West Ridge Route
The West Ridge Route is known to be the most difficult way to climb Mount Everest. It is also known as the “Supercouloir” or the “Hornbein Couloir.” This route is a technical climb that demands expertise in rock and ice climbing. The route was first climbed in 1963 by a team of American mountaineers, led by Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld.
The West Ridge Route starts from the north side of Mount Everest in Tibet. It is an extremely challenging route that requires climbers to navigate through technical terrain, including steep rock and ice sections. The route begins at the West Shoulder and ascends to the summit via the Hornbein Couloir. The route is less traveled and sees fewer climbers than the South Col Route, which makes it more difficult for climbers to find partners or guides to join them.
The West Ridge Route is considered the most challenging way to climb Mount Everest because it is a technical climb that demands high-altitude rock and ice climbing skills. The climb requires climbers to ascend a 2,000-foot vertical wall of rock and ice, followed by a traverse along a narrow ridge that is only a few feet wide. This traverse is known as the “Knife-Edge Ridge” because it is so narrow that climbers can only move forward in single file.
Climbing on the West Ridge Route demands high levels of fitness, endurance, and technical ability. The climbers need to have the ability to climb up to 5.9 rock and ice routes and have extensive high-altitude experience. The route demands strength and agility to navigate through difficult sections and a high level of mental fortitude to withstand the harsh weather conditions and difficult climbing environment.
The weather conditions on Mount Everest are known to be extreme and unpredictable, and they can make the climb even more difficult. The West Ridge Route is exposed to the full force of the wind, making it even more challenging to climb. In addition, climbers on this route are also more exposed to avalanches and falling rocks, which can be deadly.
The weather conditions on Mount Everest are extremely harsh, with temperatures that can drop to -30°C or lower. The wind speeds can reach over 100 miles per hour, making it difficult for climbers to maintain their balance and stability. These extreme weather conditions can cause frostbite, hypothermia, and other severe health problems.
At high altitudes, the air becomes thinner, and the oxygen levels decrease, making it harder for climbers to breathe. On the West Ridge Route, climbers face this challenge as they ascend to the summit. The route requires climbers to climb through the “Death Zone,” which is above 8,000 meters.
In this zone, the oxygen levels are so low that it becomes impossible for the human body to acclimate to the conditions. Climbers who attempt the West Ridge Route must bring oxygen tanks with them to maintain their oxygen levels and reduce the risk of altitude sickness.
Gear and Equipment
Climbing Mount Everest requires a lot of gear and equipment. Climbers need to bring the right gear to protect themselves from the harsh weather conditions and technical climbing sections. On the West Ridge Route, climbers need specialized equipment to navigate through the technical terrain.
They need crampons, ice axes, ropes, and harnesses, along with high-quality mountaineering boots and clothing. The equipment must be lightweight and durable, and it should be able to withstand harsh weather conditions and heavy use.
Physical and Mental Preparation
Climbing Mount Everest is a physically and mentally challenging endeavor. On the West Ridge Route, climbers need to be in top physical and mental shape to tackle the technical terrain and harsh weather conditions. Climbers need to train for months, if not years, to build their strength, endurance, and technical skills. They need to be comfortable climbing at high altitudes, which requires extensive acclimatization.
Climbers also need to be mentally prepared for the climb. They need to be able to manage their fear and anxiety and stay focused on the task at hand. Climbing Mount Everest requires a high level of determination and perseverance, and climbers need to be mentally prepared to face the challenges that come with the climb.
The Risks Involved
Climbing Mount Everest is a risky endeavor, and the West Ridge Route is even riskier. Climbers on this route are exposed to the full force of the wind and are more prone to avalanches and falling rocks. The technical terrain also poses a risk, as climbers need to navigate through steep rock and ice sections, which can be deadly if they make a mistake.
In addition to the physical risks, climbers on the West Ridge Route also face mental risks. The climb can be emotionally and mentally draining, and climbers need to be prepared to deal with the psychological toll of the climb. Climbers may experience fear, anxiety, and other negative emotions, which can impact their performance and decision-making abilities.
Related: Are There Always Ropes On Everest?
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: How long does it take to climb Mount Everest via the West Ridge Route?
It typically takes climbers 60 to 90 days to climb Mount Everest via the West Ridge Route.
Q: How much does it cost to climb Mount Everest via the West Ridge Route?
Climbing Mount Everest is an expensive endeavor, and climbing the West Ridge Route is even more expensive. It can cost anywhere from $70,000 to $100,000 or more to climb Mount Everest via the West Ridge Route.
Q: How many climbers have successfully climbed Mount Everest via the West Ridge Route?
The West Ridge Route is less traveled than the South Col Route, and fewer climbers have successfully completed the climb via this route. As of 2021, the number of successful ascents via the West Ridge Route is approximately 35.
Q: Is climbing Mount Everest via the West Ridge Route recommended for beginners?
No, climbing Mount Everest via the West Ridge Route is not recommended for beginners. It is a highly technical and challenging climb that requires extensive mountaineering experience and skills.
Q: What is the success rate for climbers attempting to climb Mount Everest via the West Ridge Route?
The success rate for climbers attempting to climb Mount Everest via the West Ridge Route is lower than that of the South Col Route. The success rate for climbers on the West Ridge Route is around 30-40%.
Q: What is the best time to climb Mount Everest via the West Ridge Route?
The best time to climb Mount Everest via the West Ridge Route is during the spring climbing season, which runs from April to May. During this time, the weather conditions are more favorable, and the risk of avalanches and storms is lower.
Q: What are some of the dangers of climbing Mount Everest via the West Ridge Route?
Climbers on the West Ridge Route face a range of dangers, including extreme weather conditions, low oxygen levels, high altitude sickness, falls, avalanches, and rockfall. Additionally, the technical terrain poses a risk, and climbers need to be highly skilled and experienced to navigate through it safely.
In conclusion, climbing Mount Everest via the West Ridge Route is the most difficult way to climb the mountain. The climb requires a high level of physical and mental preparation, technical skill, and endurance. Climbers must navigate through extreme weather conditions, low oxygen levels, and high physical and mental risks.
The West Ridge Route is not recommended for beginners and requires extensive mountaineering experience and skills. However, for experienced climbers looking for a challenging and rewarding climb, the West Ridge Route offers a unique and unforgettable experience.