Imagine if a 22-seater Twin Otter flying an expedition from Kathmandu to Lukla packed 60 passengers so as to make a bit of extra cash. The risks would be frightening. Some might even refuse to board, and demand refunds.
Fortunately aviation rules are strictly enforced, but no such regulations to limit climbing permits seem to exist for Mt Everest. Hence the monstrous traffic jam we witnessed this week on the summit ridge.
Because we are there, Damien Francois
Expedition brings down 11 tons of Mt Everest trash, Bharat Bandhu Thapa
Most days, it’s not so crowded on Mt Everest
The Nepal government collects $11,000 in permit fees from every climber, and jobs are created. But there is a fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of mountaineering. When there are more people climbing the highest mountain in the world than on the multitude of considerably easier to attain lower peaks does this mean it is simply easier to climb Mt Everest? Or is it that more people can afford it? Have physical and mental competencies increased? Is there a scheduling problem? Can anyone imagine the crisis if so many climbers are trapped by bad weather at high altitude?
What about the detritus of 1,000 people at Base Camp, the higher camps and the trails? Does someone in the Kathmandu permit office believe that each person will actually carry down trash from the mountains? No one administering the permits seems to take into account what it is like to desperately try to descend while hundreds are climbing in the opposite direction. The potential for fatalities is mind-boggling.
It is one thing to be permitted to climb, and climbers having to know and understand the risks of altitude, weather, equipment, physical and mental exhaustion – but it is quite another to get a permit for an adventure wherein regardless of one’s preparation, aptitude, skill and knowledge the whole affair could be kyboshed because of the unexpectedly high number of simultaneously permitted groups. By allowing so many groups to be on the mountain at the same time, the government put the entire mountaineering sector at risk.
There are reports from disgruntled permit holders being unable to get near the summit, even though ability and all else would allow them to do so. There could be potential court cases here. The health and safety of all those caught in the traffic jam is seriously jeopardised, and there is considerably heightened risk for Nepali support staff, even those remaining at lower altitudes. Over-crowding also results in increased environmental damage to the mountain. area.
This year we were lucky that the weather did not deteriorate on the mountain, preventing an unimaginable catastrophe. If this continues, we may have a completely obverse and unintended result for tourism in Nepal.
There is an argument to raise climbing fees on Mt Everest as well as promote high-end tourism in Nepal. But high-end tourism alone is not a cogent reason for planning without the attendant orientation of visitors to culture and expected respect at our sacred sites and en route communities. Adequate, professional monitoring and application of relevant regulations and laws are also needed, not just laws on paper.
There is no difference between low-payers and high-payers as far as understanding and treatment of the environment, except that potential peak summiteers are high payers. There are elements in both ‘categories’ who disregard and abuse what they visit. Thus, focused orientation by travel companies for their incoming visitors is essential.
Higher charges and limit on numbers is one way to operate, especially on the death zone of Mt Everest. But changing the current system from no limits to predetermined maxima would be, in and of itself, insufficient without official checks.
The last of the first, Shard Ojha
The season of summits, Lisa Choegyal
Adequate, professional monitoring is currently lacking for regular trekking routes, let alone climbing areas. Some liaison officers do not go above a certain altitude, some get compensated for remaining lower down, some do not understand the complexity, and neither does the government. The result is that several local and foreign climbing companies undermine, thwart and disregard regulations as well as common sense. The consequence is that Nepal as a country, its cultures, the natural environment, and its respect are tarnished.
It is time (indeed it has been time since the 1970s) to seriously review, analyse as well as update/upgrade all related regulations and develop a workable, sustainable monitoring and enforcement system to ensure long term viability for mountaineering, trekking and the environment.
Territoriality must not creep into the relationship — there ought to be a standing advisory committee for mountaineering, which would schedule climbs, establish rules and monitor implementation.
Especially when we are considering the participation of tourists from around the world — in whatever form — with the potential for international repercussions, it behoves the Nepal government to establish a committee to provide an organised forum for discussion with key stakeholders on emerging technical and process issues in mountaineering.