A Mountain of Ladders

A Mountain of Ladders

24th August 2015

Here at Safety Fabrications we take ladders seriously, very seriously indeed – after all, using a ladder can be a very risky business and we’re dedicated to bringing to you the most relevant advice on using ladders and health and safety in the workplace in general. However, every now and again we take a bit of a sideways view at ladders to give you an interesting and enjoyable read and let you know that ladders are not just for work, they can be for play, for laughs and even for travel. Today, we’re going to take a look at the fascinating subject of ladders on Mount Everest.

Mount Everest is the world’s highest mountain – it’s in the Himalayas with the international border between China and Nepal running across its summit. Everest peaks at 8,848 metres above sea level and was given its official English name by the Royal Geographical Society although it is known in Nepal as Sagarmatha and in Tibet as Chomolungma. The first recorded attempts to reach the summit of Everest took place in 1921 by British mountaineers and was eventually conquered by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary in 1953 using the southeast ridge route.

Mount Everest has claimed many lives, especially in what’s known as the Death Zone (altitudes higher than 8,000 metres) which presents climbers with significant challenges, including sub-zero temperatures, high winds, avalanches and falls from dizzying heights. Until recently the highest death toll for a single event was in 1996 when eight climbers died after being caught in a blizzard high up on the mountain. Then last year, who can forget the tragic avalanche that took the lives of sixteen climbers. The avalanche hit just below Base Camp 2 at an elevation of about 5,900 metres and the same year 43 people were killed in a snowstorm despite the fact that they were trekking the Annapurna Circuit rather than trying to reach the summit. In April of this year, an earthquake triggered an avalanche that trapped hundreds of climbers who had to be evacuated by helicopter and resulted in 25 deaths and 117 injuries.

One of the famous features of climbing Everest are the ladders that are used to cross the dangerous crevasses (of which there are more than 200). Contrary to popular belief, the ladders do not always go straight across a crevasse. They sometimes go down, straight up or are positioned at an angle – in fact, anything but horizontal. In high traffic areas there can be dual ladders.

Most climbing teams practise crossing the ladders wearing full size 8000 metre boots and crampons while they’re at Base Camp to get a feel for it. When approaching a ladder, climbers pause to inspect it – they need to see how many ladders are lashed together (sometimes three or four which causes a bounce in the middle). The safety line anchors should also be inspected where they’re secured to the ground (don’t forget, there are no health and safety regulations when it comes to climbing Mount Everest, climbers rely on experience and common sense). With safety lines anchored to snow or ice, the sunlight often melts the surrounding snow which means that the anchors need constant checking.