Climbers from Nepal have contradicted a claim by a British mountaineer that a famous rock feature near the top of Mount Everest – known as the Hillary Step – has collapsed. The local climbers, among the first to reach the summit during this year's spring season, said the feature is intact.

British climber Tim Mosedale, who reached the summit of the world's highest mountain on 16 May for the sixth time, told the BBC that the Hillary Step had disappeared. He said the outcrop was "definitely not there any more", possibly in the aftermath of an earthquake in Nepal in 2015. Mosedale added climbers would now find it "tricky to negotiate" the last stretch to the summit.

However, Nepal Mountaineering Association President Ang Tshering Sherpa said on Tuesday (23 May) that the Hillary Step is "intact, except that there's lots more snow on it so the rock portion is not easily visible."

Tshering's remarks were supported by Nepali climber Lila Basnet, who runs a mountaineering expedition agency in Nepali capital Kathmandu. Basnet told the Associated Press that the feature – located just before the summit of the Everest, appeared unchanged.

"It appears there was much more snow in the area but we found nothing wrong with the Hillary Step. This is the fifth time I have climbed Everest and it all appears good," the mountaineer said.

The step owes its name to Edmund Hillary – the first man to conquer the world's tallest mountain in 1953.

Pasang Tenzing Sherpa, a frequent climber who has scaled the Everest 11 times and opened up the route to the summit along with other lead climbers a year after the massive earthquake, told AP that they had to move the route to go around the Hillary Step for safety reasons.

"Last year I was the coordinator of the team that opened up the route to the summit. Since there were no climbers on the mountain in two years, it appeared like a new mountain with lots of snow," Pasang said.

"I did not see any marking of the older route. For safety reasons in the Hillary Step, I changed the route a little to the right," said Pasang, adding that it was moved about 5 to 8m (16-26ft) to the right of the step.

"We decided to follow the ridge rather than traverse or cutting through the section. That is why people are confused. There is a lot of snow and the rock is buried under the snow," he said.

Pasang said that the Hillary Step was intact when he climbed the mountain last week.

Everest unconquered
The step owes its name to Edmund Hillary – the first man to conquer world's tallest mountain in 1953 Reuters/ Navesh Chitrakar