Nepal has long required climbers to form teams of 7 to 15 members in order to pay the lowest permit fee for Everest. Now that is changing and the impact may be dramatic.
Effective January 1, doctor 2015, a new single climber permit for $11,000 replaces the long time Everest permit fee structure of 7 members for $70,000 or $10,000 per person.
In a shrewd public relations move, they are calling it a price decrease because previously it was $25,000 for an individual climber. Few climbers, if anyone, one ever paid $25K for a single permit and formed teams to effectively pay $10,000 so in reality it is a price increase for 99.9% of those who climb Everest. Expect to see operators increase their 2015 guided trips anywhere from $2500 to $5000 per person based on this increase and other factors.
According to this article in the Republica, the change came as a result of a committee suggestion formed last year to recommend revisions in mountaineering royalty fee system.The announcement came from The Ministry of Culture, Tourism & Civil Aviation in the local Government newspaper, the Nepal Gazette.
The thinking behind the change is to allow single climbers to attempt Everest without being penalized by having to join a large team or join with a group of strangers just to get the lower fee. It helps professional climbers who usually go in small teams or sometimes as individuals.
However, the real motivation seems to be all about money as Mohan Krishna Sapkota, spokesperson of Nepal’s ministry of tourism and civil aviation, told IANS.
“Many foreigners team up for ascending Everest, so we were losing on royalty. To encourage individuals to climb Mt Everest, we have slashed the fee so that Everest can be saved from increasing traffic during the peak season and its sanity and purity can be preserved”
Further, the Ministry said it will still require a trash deposit and a government liaison officer to accompany each team, regardless of size at an additional cost to the climber thus eliminating the savings through splitting these costs that came with teams of seven or more. In reality, a single climber might find this fee structure more expensive than joining a team.
The permit fees for individuals climbing in Autumn were also changed. For a single climber the Everest fee was reduced from $12,500 to $5,500. During the height of the summer monsoon or deep winter seasons, the fee is $2,750 instead of $6,250, not that anyone in their right mind would attempt Everest during those periods.
Other changes, these being effective immediately, included allowing Nepali to pay in local currency instead of US dollars in an effort to get more Nepalis to climb Everest. The effective permit fee would be Rs 75,000 or USD$757. It is still expensive as the per capita income in Nepal is about $600.
For the other 8000m mountains, the fees were reduced to $1,800 per person from $5,000 during the spring and $900 and $450 per person during the autumn and winter and summer, respectively. This will make mountains like Lhotse and Manaslu even more affordable.
More Crowds, More Deaths?
Overall I think most of these changes could have unexpected and bad consequences. It’s not the $1,000 increase that bothers me. That is small change in comparison to the overall costs. It is the ability for individuals with one guide, little support, etc. that I think will increase the risk and crowds.
One of the current problems on Everest are inexperienced and understaffed teams trying to climb Everest on the cheap. Now we might see many single person climbs with little Sherpa support on the world’s highest mountain.
There are plenty of “guides” who will take someone’s money to give it a try. Having qualified guides (and Sherpas) has become a huge issue recently as Everest becomes more accessible to under-qualified people through guides who take anyone and now lower prices..
The Ministry would have been better to provide some kind of qualification system for guides along with this price reduction if they were serous about safety and not just generating income.
Many individuals want to climb Everest not wanting or can afford to pay $40K to join a team. This change lowers the bar for those people. Inexpensive teams were quite common on the north side for years where there have been more deaths than on the south.
There is nothing wrong with trying to make Everest more accessible for climbers with little means. But that comes with a responsibility to do it in a safe and environmentally respectful manner. If Everest becomes crowded with unqualified individuals there will be more of a burden placed on the large teams for rescues.
Each season, it is the largest teams, usually western, that do the majority of the rescues for the small or inexperienced teams. Along with this fee change, the Ministry should have created a formal, dedicated team of Sherpa who are based at Camp 2 for all mountain rescues, similar to the Icefall Doctors who manage the ladders in the Khumbu Icefall.
A common thought is to dramatically increase the permit fee to say $40,000 per climber in order to control the crowds. There is a market for this and it would reduce the crowds. There is already a growing trend for 30 day climbs (vs. 60) day that attracts people wanting to peak bag Everest.
This attracts busy people willing to pay $90,000 in order to quickly return to work. They could easily afford $130,000 but it would reserve Everest for the very wealthy further making it the domain of the elite. Peak bagging Everest is the wrong attitude and motivation in my humble opinion.
Time will tell how the changes play out but all of this could conspire to make Everest more crowded, more dangerous, with more deaths and more of a target for contempt inside and outside the climber community.
Memories are Everything