Northeast Ridge

It was the British reconnaissance expedition of 1921 that determined the only feasible route to the summit was via the North Col to the Northeast Ridge. Prior to 1938, this route was made famous by seven unsuccessful British attempts, but it was during the 1924 expedition that George Leigh Mallory and his young climbing partner Andrew Irvine would disappear into the history books. It would be another 40 years before a very large Chinese team successfully climbed this route in 1960. And it wasn’t until the 1990s that this route became more popular with the commercial expeditions. Even to this day the North Col Route sees far less climbers than the traditional Southeast Ridge Route that Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbed in 1953.

There are certain challenges inherent to climbing the North Col Route. Most notably are the famous steps located on the Northeast Ridge. There are three steps guarding the summit of Everest. These rock cliffs vary in height and exposure, with the First Step being approximately half the size of the Second Step. The varying degree of exposure on both the First Step and the Second Step make these obstacles quite daunting at extreme altitudes. The Third Step has little exposure and is considered a scramble up broken rock. But the steps are not the only obstacles along the way. The Yellow Band is a steep section of crumbling limestone rock that slants downward like tiles on a roof. This 100-meter-wide band requires careful footing on rocks that routinely pull away and tumble almost 8,000 feet to the Rongbuk Glacier. There are knife-edge cornices, where a wrong step could punch through, sending one down the Kangshung face, and steep traverses across the North Face with more down-sloping, and brittle rock. At 8,000 meters, the rarefied air magnifies these obstacles. This route of Everest is relatively difficult and cold due to strong winds. However, compared to the south classical route North side of Everest brings less risk in terms of avalanches.

Base Camp (5200m)
The north side’s base camp occupies a site on the gravel plain below the Rongbuk Glacier at approximately 5200 meters. The route up to Advance Base Camp follows the left bank of the East Rongbuk Glacier to the base of the North Col. This is the easiest route expeditions follow to get within shooting distance of Everest's Northeast Ridge Route. In 1921, when Mallory was searching for the best route to take up the mountain, he missed the turn off from the main Rongbuk glacier to the East Rongbuk. That year, much effort was expended trying to find a route to the North Col. The first ascent of the East Rongbuk was accomplished in 1922 and since then the East Rongbuk has become the 20 km highway, used by all, to the north side of Everest.

Interim (Yak) Camp (5800m)

Yak Camp, at 5800 meters, sits at a bend in the rocky moraine of the East Rongbuk Glacier. Huge ice towers begin to rise up from the glacial ice at this point in the ascent up to Advance Base Camp. It is also called Yak Camp (also known as Interim Camp) because it is the point at which the yak herders overnight their yaks on the route up to ABC. By the end of the season, it is a place to be avoided at all costs, due to the abundance of dung left behind.

Advanced Base Camp (6400m)

Advance Base Camp is located at about 6400 meters on the lateral moraine of the East Rongbuk Glacier below the North Col. The site extends up and down the moraine, and various expeditions' camps are scattered along the terrain. It's rocky and broken ground, requiring a lot of work to create tent sites. From the ABC to the North Col which is the low point of one of the three great ridges that emanate from the summit of Mount Everest, takes about 3 hours climb on fixed ropes. In this case the North Ridge drops to a saddle between Everest and Changtse. The North Col sits at approximately 7000 meter and from this low point the ridge climbs back up 600m.

The route from the North Col up to Camp 2 starts with about 1000 meter of moderately steep snow and ice up the North Ridge. It is usually battered by exceptional crosswinds from west to east and it is not unusual for climbers to be knocked off their feet here. At about 7600m the terrain changes from snow to rock. Camp 2 is not just one campsite, it has extended for nearly 300m up the ridge. The terrain is predominantly rocky on the North Ridge. Campsites are located on small ridges that must be manually freed of rock. It is possible to find old oxygen bottles here and other remnants from past expeditions. This is probably the windiest campsite on the mountain, open to all the wind coming from the west and northwest. The site is spectacular -from the tents you can look all the way down to ABC. This is where climbers start using oxygen, which is about the elevation of the South Col on the south side of Everest (7900m).
Camp 1 North Col (7010m)

Camp 3 (8300m)
The route from Camp 2 to Camp 3 leaves the North Ridge and continues on the North Face. The terrain here is sheltered from the wind. Climbers normally take three to six hours to cover this terrain. The route follows the snow as it winds through small gullies. As you approach Camp 3, the terrain steepens and you begin to encounter downsloping, slabby terrain. While the rock climbing is not difficult, the terrain is loose and it is difficult to keep from slipping. Like Camp 2, Camp 3 occupies several different sites starting at about 8200m. It typically consists of very small sites for tiny high-altitude tents. The camp is located just below the Yellow Band. From here, you can look up to the Northeast Ridge and see the First and Second steps up to the summit and then look down into Tibet. From Camp 3 the climbers must find the route through the Yellow Band. Normally this is done by following the fixed rope that runs up through the cliff bands. It takes a couple of hours to make your way up through the Yellow Band and up onto the Northeast Ridge.

Second Step
Second Step
The most important obstacles beyond this point are the steps on the northeast ridge. The First Step at 8500m is the terminal prow of two gray limestone bands lying on top of one another, which are separated by a wide sloping ledge. To circumvent this obstacle, a traverse of its northern face is made along the junction between the Grey and Yellow Bands until a shallow gully (or snow couloir) allows access to the ledge above.

The Second Step at 8575m on the ridge is a 10-m-high rock step. The 1975 Chinese expedition placed a ladder on this pitch which is now commonly used for the ascent. Once the Third Step is climbed at 8690m, the Summit Pyramid remains as the final obstacle. After around an hour of climbin on the ridge, the summit is finally reached.
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