China to Cut Everest Permits by a Third in 2019

If you were thinking of climbing Everest from the North Side in Tibet this season, your chances of doing that just got a little more difficult. On Monday it was announced that the Chinese government will dramatically reduce the number of permits that it issues in 2019 while it focuses on cleaning up the mountain. In fact, the number of permits available to expeditions has been cut by a third, which will no doubt leave some operators scrambling this close to the start of the climbing season.

For the 2019 season, China will limit the number of climbers attempting to summit Everest from the Tibetan side of the mountain to fewer than 300. That will have an impact on the growing climbing season in Tibet, where operators have been picking up momentum –– and clients –– as the crowding continues on the South Side in Nepal. To put things in perspective, in 2018 there were a little more than 200 summits from the North Side so on paper this restriction doesn’t seem all that limiting. But the number of climbers in Tibet was expected to rise substantially this year as Everest’s popularity continues to grow.

The reason for limiting access to the mountain in 2019 is to give Chinese clean-up teams a chance to work on cleaning up the environment there. Over the years, the mountain has become littered with trash and human waste, and China is making a substantial effort to improve conditions. Expeditions to Everest are now requires to bring all of their garbage and human waste off the mountain with them, but there are still decades of trash to be retrieved and recycled.

To that end, China has created clean-up stations on Everest to help remove the trash. These stations are designed to help recycle the bottles, cants, plastic bags, and other items that are left behind on the mountain. Moving these recycling facilities closer to Everest itself will help with ongoing efforts to reduce the human impact on the peak, both now and moving forward.

For now, the cut in the number of permits issued for Everest is being sold as a temporary reduction to help with clean-up efforts. We’ll have to wait to see if China takes steps to permanently limit access to the mountain. Considering the amount of money it has invested in infrastructure and promotion, that seems unlikely. But then again, this is China and just about anything can happen.

Kraig Becker