Mount Everest is, well, the Mount Everest of climbing challenges—a peak that’s the world’s tallest and one of the world’s most dangerous. But in 2015, the mountain managed to set a sobering record of its own. The Washington Post’s Peter Holley writes that for the first year since 1974, nobody managed to scale Mount Everest.
The news is perhaps unsurprising given the earthquake that struck Nepal in April, sparking a catastrophic avalanche that killed 24 climbers and even shortening the mountain by an inch. Dangerous conditions and government closures on both sides of the mountains also hampered climbers, writes Holley.
Despite attempts by climbers to seek new ways up the mountain, conditions simply didn’t cooperate in 2015. But there’s another factor that could keep the mountain just as dangerous in the coming years: climate change. Though the earthquakes that caused the avalanches were not related to climate change, a 2014 avalanche that killed 16 people was. During that avalanche, an earthquake dislodged a serac, or a column of ice, that was precariously perched on the moving glacier.
Earlier this year, scientists learned that the size of Everest’s glaciers decreased by 20 percent between 1961 and 2007 and predicted that some parts of the glaciers could decline by as much as 99 percent by 2100. Veteran climbers tell Holley that melting, shifting ice will make the mountain even more dangerous for climbers.
In a way, that might be good news: The mountain’s popularity has skyrocketed in recent years, leading to congested conditions and piles of trash left by climbers eager to bag the peak. Famed mountaineer Thomas Hornbein once wrote that “Everest was not a private affair. It belonged to many men.” But if the mountain is forever transformed by manmade climate change, it may no longer belong to anyone in its current, majestic form.