In the wake of all of the negative attention garnered by the spring climbing season on Everest, Nepali officials are promising to make changes. At least 11 people perished on the world’s highest peak over the past few weeks, with another 9+ dying on other mountains across the Himalaya. This has prompted a wave a criticism over who is allowed on these difficult and dangerous mountains, but some of the preliminary reports indicate that there is still a fundamental lack of understanding of the real problem.
Yesterday, The New York Times quoted several members of the Nepali government, including Yagya Raj Sunuwar, a member of the parliament there, who dramatically said, “It’s time to review all the old laws.” Those sentiments were echoed by Mira Acharya, who works in Nepal’s tourism department. She’s indicates changes are coming to the expedition sector, saying“We are discussing reforming some issues, including setting criteria for every Everest hopeful.’’ Acharya goes on to add, “We raised the issue of inexperienced climbers.”
These quotes indicate that senior members of the government are keenly aware that there are problems on Everest, and more importantly that the world is watching and waiting for Nepal to do something about those issues. But, the Nepali officials quoted seem to be somewhat missing the point. Yes, inexperienced climbers are an issue on Everest in particular, and changes should be made to ensure that all of the climbers have the necessary experience and credentials to be there. But, the real problem sits with the rise of the low-cost expedition operators who have flocked to the mountain in recent years. By cutting costs dramatically, they are attracting far more clients than in the past, which has contributed to the overcrowding issues. These same operators are lacking in terms of experienced personnel to help oversee operations. They may also have inadequate equipment and poor planning too, in part because the expedition groups are quite large compared to the higher-priced competition.
The Times story does analyze this angle, citing Amit Chowdhury –– the president of the International Mountaineering Federation –– who says it is possible to simply hire a Sherpa in Kathmandu to take climbers to the summit. That is a bit of an over simplification of course, but his point is that the credentials of those Sherpas are not fully known and they may not be as experienced as they should be. Chowdhury indicates that some regulation in that area needs to be created. It should also be noted that his organization issued a statement regarding the Everest climbing season a few days back which says, “access management, climber experience, training and self-responsibility are amongst the key topics to address.”
Experienced Everest guide and climber Adrian Ballinger, who owns Alpenglow Expeditions, also weighed in on the topic. He also looks at the rise of the low-cost operators as a major challenge. Ballinger told The Times that his company turns down as many as 70% of the applicants who want to climb Everest. But, he points out that “they probably just find a cheaper operator that is willing to take them.”
The question moving forward isn’t whether or not something should be done, or even what should b done. The real question is whether or not anything will be done. We’ve heard plenty of promises out of Nepal before, with very little actually changing. The government there has even made bold announcements in the past about how it was going to change the rules and regulations in order to improve safety. Generally it seems those rules are either ignored or don’t ever become a reality and the challenges of the past continue to repeat themselves. Will anything change this time? We’ll just have to wait and see. But considering how long I’ve been covering the Everest scene, you can color me skeptical at this point.
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