Khumbu Icefall – Everything You Need to Know

The Khumbu Icefall is famous due to how dangerous it is. And also due to the fact that if you’re climbing Mount Everest, you have to navigate your way through the Khumbu Icefall multiple times on your acclimatization climbs, and ultimately your summit attempt.

Khumbu Icefall
The Khumbu Icefall

What is the Khumbu Icefall?

The Khumbu Icefall is a section of the Khumbu Glacier (which sits in the Khumbu Valley). It’s essentially 5km of constantly moving ice. It’s famous due to the fact that Everest climbers must navigate it to summit Everest. The Khumbu icefall is also famous due to its iconic ladders which allow Everest climbers to traverse huge gaps (crevasses) between the solid ice. It’s also sadly infammus due to how dangerous it is to get through, and how many lives it’s claimed. The icefall is 1.62 miles (2.3km) long.

Where is the Khumbu Icefall?

The Khumbu Icefall is located right by Everest Base Camp, on the Nepal side of Mount Everest. Immediately after the Khumbu Icefall is ‘Camp 1’ (1 of 4 high camps people use to slowly climb Mount Everest). It is located around 5,486 metres (18,000ft) above sea level.

Everest base camp
Me at Everest base camp

Why is the Khumbu Icefall dangerous?

Because it’s a glacier. So each day, the entire section moves up to 1m. That means that all the cliffs, the ‘holes’, the crevasses are constantly moving. Meaning mini-avalanches can occur, and new crevasses can appear. Climbers have perished to both these sad occurrences over the years. And there is little to no warning.

People are so fascinated with the danger of the Khumbu due to the photos going viral where climbers where their huge cumbersome boots. And cross vast space on rickety ladders. Inducing fear in anyone who sees it. I feel the same, don’t worry!

The Khumbu Icefall deaths.

The official Himalayan Database records 47 deaths in the Icefall between 1953 and 2023, with 3 deaths in 2023 being the most recent.

khumbu ice fall

Khumbu ice fall Crevasse depth

They can be up to 150 feet (45m deep). EEEEEEK.

Khumbu Icefall safety

The best way to cross the icefall safely is to leave everest base camp during the night and cross it in the dark. It’s colder this way, so the ice moves less. It normally takes around 6 hours to cross the icefall. Although slower climbers can take up to 12 hours, with sherpas doing it as quickly as 2/3 hours!

Can you avoid the Khumbu Ice fall?

You can climb Mount Everest from either Nepal or Tibet. If you go from the Nepal side, you’ll be taking on the Khumbu Icefall. People have tried for years to find another way, as yet, nothing has taken hold.

If you climb from Tibet you do avoid the icefall, but the rest of the climb is slightly more technical, tough and dangerous. Even with the icefall from the Nepal side, the death rate for climbing Everest from Nepal side is 3.7% and from Tibet side it’s 3.8%.

So it’s no safer to climb from Tibet.

The khumbu icefall avalanche 2014

The deadliest year in the Khumbu Icefall was 2014. A devastating earthquake struck the icefall while the local sherpa were preparing ropes and ladders to climb through it. It claimed 16 lives, and cancelled the 2014 climbing season.

khumbu icefall
khumbu icefall

Khumbu Ice Fall facts

Here are 10 facts about the Khumbu Icefall:

  1. The Khumbu Icefall is located on the south side of Mount Everest in Nepal and is part of the climbing route to the summit.
  2. It is the most dangerous section of the climb due to the constantly shifting ice, deep crevasses, and seracs (huge ice blocks).
  3. The icefall moves at a rate of about 1 meter per day and can shift several meters during the climbing season.
  4. The icefall has a height of over 500 meters and is made up of ice that is over 500 years old.
  5. The Khumbu Icefall has claimed the lives of many climbers, including Sherpas and westerners.
  6. In 2014, 16 Sherpa guides were killed in an avalanche that swept through the icefall, making it one of the deadliest accidents in Everest history.
  7. Climbers must navigate through ladders and ropes that are placed over crevasses and unstable ice blocks.
  8. The icefall can be crossed only during a specific time window in the climbing season when the ice is most stable and the risk of avalanches is lower.
  9. The Khumbu Icefall is constantly changing due to climate change, making it even more dangerous for climbers.
  10. Despite the risks, many climbers continue to attempt the climb each year, and the Khumbu Icefall remains a challenging and awe-inspiring part of the journey to the top of the world.
the Khumbu icefall
After just finishing the Khumbu icefall

My personal attempt at the Khumbu Ice Fall

I’m currently attempting to become the first person to travel to every country, reach both the north and south poles, and climb the 7 summits. I’m currently on an Everest expedition with Furtenbach Adventures. I’ll update this with my story when the expedition is over. But we did do one rotation through the ice fall already.

Khumbu icefall
Khumbu icefall

How was it?

It wasn’t SOOOO bad. Actually, it was pretty f*cking cool. We left our base camp around 11pm at night, and we arrived at camp 1 around 6.30am in the morning. All-in-all it took a touch less than 7 hours. That included walking across the entire everest case camp, about 1 hour, and from the top of the Khumbu Ice fall, it’s another 1 hour or so through a snowy plateau with plenty of climbs and rappels to get us through the last kilometre.

That means the actual iconic ice fall was about 4 or 5 hours. It’s beautiful. And this year there aren’t so many ladders. Less than 10 for sure. I truly enjoyed the experience, apart from that last hour where I was starting to get tired.

My tips? Sleep more than I did during the day. And eat more. I felt a little empty at the end and that was my fault for not fuelling properly. All-in-all, yes it’s a little dangerous, but not as much as the myths suggest. And arriving at Camp 1 and collapsing in your tent is glorious!

Khumbu ice fall
Khumbu ice fall

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