Limiting Everest Climbing Permits Not on the Table for Nepal

As Nepal continues to face sharp criticism from global media outlets following a particularly dangerous and deadly climbing season on Mt. Everest, the country seems to be struggling with how to address the negative publicity it now faces.

Officials from within the Nepali government have made statements indicating that changes are coming that could improve safety in the Himalaya, with several new proposals already coming fourth. Not amongst those proposals however is the idea of limiting the number of permits issued to the world’s highest peak, which has grown into a $300+ million annual cash cow for Nepal.

According to reports, the ideas that are being floated around to increase safety on the mountain do include medical check-ups in Base Camp prior to a summit push and the installation of a second rope near the summit to help alleviate traffic jams.

A photo taken by mountaineer Nirmal Purja while waiting in line at the Hillary Step went viral last week, showing dozens of climbers standing in line as they waited for their chance to complete their ascent. That traffic jam was partially caused by the fact that there was only one rope for the climbers to both go up, and down that section of the mountain. Nepali officials now say that they’ll install a second rope to help prevent a similar scene in the future.

The installation of a second rope on the Hillary Step can certainly help lessen traffic jams at 29,000 feet, but it is akin to slapping a band aid on a bullet wound. Adding a second line will allow climbers to move more swiftly through one of the main bottlenecks of the climb, it doesn’t address the issues that come with overcrowding.

That doesn’t seem to be something that Nepal is overly concerned about, nor do they appear to show any intentions of limiting the number of climbers on Everest. This year alone the country issued more than 381 permits to 44 teams, both of which are record numbers. As more low-cost operators spring up in Nepal, that number could continue to rise in the years ahead.

Perhaps most disturbingly of all is that Nepal seems unconcerned with continuing to promote Everest to climbers who may not belong there. In an article from the Associated Press, Mohan Krishna Sapkota, the secretary at the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation, is quoted as saying that climbers should come to Everest “for both pleasure and fame.” In a time when the country should be looking for ways to improve safety on the mountain in general, I’m not sure citing “fame” as a reason to climb it is a responsible approach.

If you listen to officials from the Nepali government, they’ll tell you that there are no easy answers to the challenge of improving safety on Everest. That simply isn’t true however, as restricting the number of permits and requiring climbers to meet stricter requirements for training and experience are two steps that can be taken immediately.

The simple fact is that Everest generates too much money for Nepal to consider those possibilities, so it seems unlikely that we’ll get any meaningful changes in the near future.

It is also important to point out that Nepal has a track record of announcing new rules and regulations, but without any real plans to enforce them. For instance, the government there came up with the idea of sending liaison officers to Everest Base Camp with every team to help facilitate communication back to Kathmandu.

Those individuals were also meant to coordinate rescue operations on the mountain and ensure that teams are following the regulations. Seems like a good idea right? The problem is, that 90% of those liaison officers never leave Kathmandu, despite the fact that each climber and team is charged a fee to pay their salaries. With that in mind, you’ll forgive me if I am skeptical that qualified doctors will be on hand at BC to conduct meaningful medical checks for each and every climber prior to setting out for the summit.

As I said yesterday, we certainly have not heard the last of this story, although I’m sure more than few people in Nepal are eager to put the climbing season behind them in the hopes that the negative press will die down.

I would love to see some kind of significant change proposed and instituted, but the next time that something like that happens will be the first time. As a result, things won’t change and climbers will continue to put their lives in jeopardy.

Kraig Becker