New Everest Rules Could Significantly Limit Who Gets to Climb

KATHMANDU, Nepal — In an effort to address deadly human traffic jams on Mount Everest and weed out inexperienced climbers, Nepali officials on Wednesday formally proposed new safety rules that could significantly reduce the number of permits issued for the world’s highest peak.

Under the measures, would-be climbers would have to prove that they have scaled another major peak, and tourism companies would be required to have at least three years’ experience organizing high-altitude expeditions before they can lead climbers on Everest, Nepal’s tourism ministry said.

To discourage cost-cutting that can put climbers’ lives at risk, the ministry also said that clients of expedition companies would have to prove, before setting out, that they had paid at least $35,000 for the expedition. (A typical total price tag easily surpasses $50,000.)

“Everest cannot be climbed just based on one’s wishes,” Yogesh Bhattarai, the tourism minister, said at a news conference. “We are testing their health conditions and climbing skills before issuing climbing permits.”

The government plans to put the changes, which have been under consideration for several months, before Parliament before the start of next spring’s climbing season.

[This year was one of the deadliest climbing seasons on Everest.]

The proposed rules were unveiled alongside findings from a group of government investigators who uncovered alarming problems in the management of Everest, which sits 29,029 feet above sea level and is a significant source of revenue for Nepal.

The announcement came several months after one of the deadliest Everest climbing seasons in recent years; at a few points, hundreds of climbers waited in line on a steep ridge for hours to reach the summit. Eleven climbers died, despite facing no major avalanche or earthquake.

Sherpa guides and industry experts blamed the lines for at least some of the deaths. They said the situation resembled a “Lord of the Flies” atmosphere, with people pushing and shoving to move past crowds and struggling to descend quickly enough on the last 1,000 or so feet to replenish their oxygen supply.

The government is now considering deploying officials to help manage crowds, officials said.

There are currently no restrictions on the number of climbers who can attempt the summit at a time. Expedition teams are free to set their own timetable for the ascent, and many choose a narrow window each May to avoid the mountain’s otherwise extreme weather and high winds.

The number of climbing permits has increased nearly every year since the commercialization of Everest picked up in the 1990s. A record 381 were issued this spring season, which typically runs from April to May, and that number does not include the several hundred Sherpa guides and support staff.

On the northern side of the mountain, in Tibet, stricter safety regulations are already in place. But until now, there have been few limits on who can get a permit to climb Everest from Nepal.

Sherpa guides say that lower-cost operators have recently drawn inexperienced climbers, including some who do no even know how to use crampons, the clip-on spikes that increase traction on ice.

Under the new rules, permits will be issued only to those who have climbed mountains higher than 21,300 feet, Nepali officials said. The government is also considering requiring mandatory health checkups at Everest Base Camp.

Nepal’s existing rules stipulate that all climbers must submit a copy of their passport, limited biographical data and a certificate showing that they are healthy enough to make it to the top. But Nepali officials said it was difficult to verify health information before issuing permits.

“This is all for ensuring a quality expedition,” Ghanshyam Upadhyay, a member of the government team that looked into safety on Everest, said of the planned regulations.

Even with the new rules, however, many climbers said further improvements were needed. Last year, veteran climbers, insurance companies and news outlets exposed a conspiracy by some guides, helicopter companies and hospitals to bilk millions of dollars from insurers by evacuating trekkers with minor signs of altitude sickness.

Climbers often complain of oxygen bottle theft and piles of trash on Everest. And this year government investigators uncovered problems with some of the oxygen systems used on the mountain. Climbers said cylinders were found to be leaking, exploding or improperly filled on a black market.

Ang Tshering Sherpa, a former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, said that the government was moving in the right direction with the new rules, but that enforcement in Nepal, where government corruption and mismanagement is rampant, would be a significant hurdle.

“Our primary focus should be on implementation of the revised laws,” he said. “Challenges remain.”

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