Everest: The State of Affairs on the World Highest Mountain

In the wake of the story about Nepal slashing climbing fees on Everest for the Fall and Winter seasons, ExWeb has posted an interesting article entitled Can reduced climbing fees save Everest?. At first glance, I was ready to dismiss the article, as I didn’t think Everest really needed saving. However, once I started reading the article, I found it to be quite interesting, even if the title is a bit misleading.

The article discusses the announcement to reduce fees in order to encourage more expeditions to consider a Fall or Winter climb on Everest. In some cases, fees have been cut by as much as 75%. It notes that up until 2000, there were nearly as many summits in the Fall as there were in the Spring, but as the Spring Season has gotten more crowded, the Fall has trickled off to nearly nothing. Climbing in Winter has always been tricky due to the extreme cold and chances of heavy snow. Most of this really isn’t anything new to most Everest observers.

However, ExWeb does go on to detail some of the more unscrupulous things that have been happening on Everest, particularly on the North Side, where the Chinese hold sway. Some of their examples from this past Spring are quite eye opening, such as the Chinese raising the fees of one team $3000/person while they were already on the mountain. Or the fact that the Chinese summit team for the Olympic Torch refused to lend a stove to two Kazakh climbers at C5, even though it simply meant walking it over to their nearby tent. The two climbers spent 2 days above 8000m without water. There are also reports of midnight searches by armed Chinese police officers and the turning away of one climber, the Mayor of Prague, for being too outspoken against the Chinese Government.

The article is quite an eye opener a lot of ways, and not the least of which is that it questions the growing ties between Nepal and China. Rumors are that the Chinese is are now paying the Nepalese to return refugees from Tibet that cross the border, leading some to wonder just how close the two countries will become with the new government in place in Nepal, and the Maoists playing a larger role.

Finally, the article closes with a comparison of the climate for climbing on Everest with K2 in Pakistan. The note that it costs just $1000 for a K2 climbing permit, and that the Pakistani Government is friendly and accommodating towards the expeditions coming to their country. A fact that has lead man mountaineers to leave Everest, and other Himalayan peaks behind, and head to the Karakorum instead.

There really is a lot to think about from this article. It’s clear that the climate on Everest has changed with the rise of the large, commercial expeditions. Both Nepal and China see it as a natural resource that they can exploit in order to make a lot of money, and these continued fee increases (Fall and Winter not withstanding) and added taxes, are just another sign of their greed. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If the countries wanted to make Everest safer, they would reduce the number of permits issued each year, but they won’t do that either. There is simply too much money to be made.

In contrast, Pakistan is quite happy with any money they can bring in from K2, but there is no way that K2 will ever become has commercialized as Everest. It’s just orders of magnitude more difficult to climb, and your average mountaineer with a lot of money, still isn’t going to buy his way up that mountain. Because of this, Pakistan is reluctant to raise their fees as they don’t want to alienate the relatively few teams that are coming to climb in their country. Instead, they accommodate as best they can, without bilking too much, while accepting the contributions from climbers to their economy.

I’d definitely encourage you to read this article. It’s a very interesting read, and gives a perspective that you don’t often hear about the whole Everest experience. As for the reduced Fall and Winter fees, hopefully they’ll drum up some activity on the mountain for the Fall, and perhaps even start a renaissance for Fall/Winter climbing on Everest.

Kraig Becker

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