Post written by Brian Reinbold, Director of Mentorship for ATDChi
Sir Edmund Hillary is credited as being the first man to climb to the summit of Mount Everest. It is in his honor that a formation near the summit is named. The "Hillary Step" is a forty foot face of sheer rock only a few hundred vertical feet below the peak of the world's tallest mountain.
At over 29,000 feet Everest has over 3000 vertical feet in what mountaineers refer to as "the death zone". Lack of oxygen above this altitude causes rapid breathing and heartbeat. Sleep becomes more difficult and digestion is shut down. Disorientation and Edema can occur sometimes even among the most seasoned mountaineers.
Unexpected storms at this altitude can result in radio blackout, causing climbers to lose contact with their base camp. It has been described as agonizing to watch from afar, and know that your colleagues are struggling toward the goal, yet to be completely unable to assist. No rescue is expected here. The air is too thin for a helicopter to fly, and fellow climbers are nearly always too exhausted to do anything but put one foot ahead of the other in the effort to return alive themselves.
Simply placing one foot above the other can take all the effort these climbers can muster after days of climbing and weeks of preparation. So how is it possible to climb a forty foot face of sheer rock, when oxygen deprived, exhausted and battling forty degrees below zero wind chills?
Ladders taken ahead by Sherpas, the natives to the region who have served as guides since Tenzig Norgay summited Everest with Sir Edmund in 1953, and before. Aluminum ladders lashed together allowing climbers to place one foot above the other and struggle on toward the goal.
After the Hillary step is an hour’s climb on a snow capped ridge, often in blinding sunlight. It gently slopes to the summit. The summit that is the top of the world.
The view from Everest is said to be indescribable, and the accomplishment of summiting the world's tallest mountain can never be taken away from those who have achieved it.
Every schoolchild knows the name Everest. Most could tell you who Sir Edmund Hillary was. They would even know the name Tenzig Norgay. Few would have heard of the Hillary step. Fewer still are aware of the system of ladders that make it possible for hundreds of climbers to achieve the summit, to stand at the top of the world by Transcending the Hillary step.
And yet, the ladders are there. The work of those who have gone ahead, who have prepared the way. Every climber knows of them.
I hope you find your "ladders".