Himalaya Fall 2016: American Climber in Trouble with Nepalese Authorities for Climbing without Permit

The 2016 fall Himalayan climbing season is wrapping up quickly at this point, but there are still a few stories to be told. One of which is a controversial effort by an American climber, who claims that he made the first ascent of 31 unclimbed peaks in Nepal, which would be a record setting achievement if proven true. But, the man now finds himself in hot water with Nepalese officials for making those climbs without a permit.

Sean Burch says that he began his expedition back on October 11 and continued to climb through the end of that month. While in Nepal, he visited the Kangnun Himal, Chandi Himal, Changla Himal and Valley regions, where he says that he managed to bag his record setting number of peaks over a three week period. If true, that would be enough to set a new Guinness record.

But, it appears that Burch – who was named an Honorary Goodwill Ambassador to Nepal’s Tourism Year in 2011 by the government there – didn’t have a permit for any of the mountains that he now claims to have summited, something that is strictly prohibited by the country’s mountaineering laws.

An investigation is now underway, with the results to be shared soon. If he is found guilty of breaking the law, Burch could face significant fines. According to The Himalayan Times, those fines could be as much as “three times the royalty to be paid for scaling the highest Himalayan peak opened for mountaineering while two times the highest royalty for scaling opened peak without any permit.” That means it could cost him $15,000 per mountain, as Everest is the highest peak in the Himalaya (and the world for that matter), and the permit for that peak is $3000/person.

For his part, Burch says that he shouldn’t be fined at all, and that he didn’t need a permit for any of the mountains. In Nepal, a permit isn’t required for mountains that fall below the 6500 meter (21,235 ft) mark, and he says all of his climbs were below that altitude. He says that “these 31 mountains ranged in height from 16,000 to over 19,000ft,” which equates to 4876 meters to 5791 meters.

While the government investigates whether or not the American climber violated any laws, others are questioning the truthfulness of his other claims. For instance, Mingma Sherpa told The Times “It’s impossible to make 31 ascents in a span of 21 days even if mountains are below 6,000 meters.” He adds “It is even more difficult if the peaks are virgin because one has to find the route to the summit.”

We’ll have to wait to see how all of this plays out, but it seems Burch – who has lived in Nepal for six years – could face stiff fines and a potential long term ban from climbing there. If the government determines that he didn’t do anything wrong, he’ll be free to continue his adventurous pursuits, but he’ll still have to offer more proof to his claims of bagging 31 beaks in 21 days.

Kraig Becker