A famous feature of Mount Everest has collapsed, potentially making the world’s highest peak even more dangerous to climbers.
Mountaineers said the Hillary Step may have fallen victim to Nepal’s devastating 2015 earthquake.
The near-vertical 12-metre (39 ft) rocky outcrop stood on the mountain’s southeast ridge, and was the last great challenge before the top.
It was named after Sir Edmund Hillary, who was the first to scale it in 1953.
British mountaineer Tim Mosedale confirmed the news of the Step’s demise after reaching the summit on 16 May.
“It’s official – The Hillary Step is no more,” he wrote on Facebook.
“Not sure what’s going to happen when the snow ridge doesn’t form because there’s some huge blocks randomly perched hither and thither which will be quite tricky to negotiate.”
Back in May 2016, pictures posted by the American Himalayan Foundation appeared to show that the Hillary Step had changed shape.
But thanks to the snowfall, it was hard to tell for sure.
“It was reported last year, and indeed I climbed it last year, but we weren’t sure for certain that ‘The Step’ had gone because the area was blasted with snow,” Mr Mosedale wrote on Facebook.
He concluded: “This year, however, I can report that the chunk of rock named ‘The Hillary Step’ is definitely not there anymore.”
Mountaineers claim the snow-covered slope will be much easier to climb than the notorious rock-face, but have warned that it could create a bottleneck.
It’s a serious worry for those already battling low oxygen and frostbite conditions at the top of the world.
Speaking to the BBC in 2012, British mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington said getting stuck near the Step could be fatal.
“If it’s a perfectly fine day, it doesn’t really matter too much if you are delayed for say, an hour and a half, two hours on the Hillary Step, which is just short of the summit.
“If the weather is breaking up, that two-and-a-half hour wait can be a matter of life and death.”