This season, more than any other in recent memory, served to illustrate the chaos that summiting Everest can be. Or has become. 11 people died climbing the mountain this spring, one of the deadliest seasons in history on the mountain. The viral photo of a line of climbers snaking chest to back, taken by Nirmal Purja, shocked the world into an awareness of how popular climbing the peak has become. Unfortunately, that popularity means it draws those without the necessary experience.
That isn’t exactly new. Climbers willing to pay big bucks to guide services to get them to the top of the mountain have been suffering their way to the top ever since there was a nascent infrastructure in place. But prompted by last season, Nepali authorities are moving to put measures in place that will curtail less experienced climbers from going for the summit.
In recent decades, more permits have been issued each year than the year before. This season was an all-time record, with 381 permits allocated. The line of climbers waiting to summit has been partially blamed for so many deaths this year, which occurred even though there were no serious avalanches. Standing in place in the death zone as oxygen runs low puts immense stresses on everybody climbing. No limits exist on the number of climbers that can make a push for Everest at any one time, at least from Nepal’s side (Tibet has more stringent safety rules). Submit your passport and a certificate demonstrating your fitness for surviving the climb, and your permit gets stamped.
That is likely to change very soon.
Under the new rules, climbers applying for a permit would need to prove they’d previously climbed one other mountain in Nepal at least 21,325 feet in elevation. The price tag for a climb if using an expedition company would have a floor of $35,000, a measure designed to discourage low-cost, poorly trained climbing outfits from leading clients to danger. In addition, the climbing guide services too will need proof they’ve guided in high-altitude expeditions for at least three years.
“Everest cannot be climbed just based on one’s wishes,” Yogesh Bhattarai, the tourism minister, explained at a press event. “We are testing their health conditions and climbing skills before issuing climbing permits.”
Back in May, sparked by the unsafe conditions a zoo of unprepared people made near the summit, government officials started drawing up potential rules governing who is allowed to climb and guide on the mountain. The new guidelines are essentially the same as what they came up with then. At the time, sherpas reported a shocking number of climbers woefully unprepared to tackle a deadly peak like Everest.
Some reportedly had never used ice axes or crampons before.
Government investigators helped compile the new rules after looking into the causes behind the deadly season. They’ve also indicated they may place government officials along the route to help with enforcement and guiding traffic, assuming permit numbers stay relatively high in the wake of implementing the new system.
The new rules are also meant to combat substandard equipment being used on the mountain. This season, even experienced guide services dealt with faulty equipment and malfunctioning oxygen systems that put guide and client lives in danger. The expedition services on Everest have barely been regulated to this point.
“The government will now make the required changes in laws and regulations guiding mountain climbing,” said Ghanshyam Upadhyaya, a senior tourism official.