Calling their skiing down the Lhotse Face without a ski permit a “a very innocent mistake” Department of Tourism’s director general Dinesh Bhattarai has given his blessing to 20-year-old American Matt Moniz and 49-year-old Argentine Willie Benegas for their Everest and Lhotse climbs. They hope to go this weekend, weather permitting. If successful, this will be Benegas’s 12th summit of Everest and Moniz’s first after being stopped twice before by ice serac release onto the Icefall in 2014 and the 2015 earthquake.
Since May 7, the pair have been living under a veil of threats. They had read in the Nepal newspapers that they were under investigation for skiing the Lhotse Face without paying the $1,000 permit. However, no one from the government agency that manages the permits had contacted them directly until now. The climbers and, apparently their Nepal Agency who is responsible for knowing the rules, were unaware that a skiing permit was required in additional to a climbing permit. They had paid for climbing permits for Everest and Lhotse, so while they read in newspapers they might be revoked, no one ever contacted them directly, even the government representative at base camp. None of the Liaison Officers there for the other teams contacted them either.
Upon hearing that they had unknowingly not purchased the skiing permit, Matt made a public statement of apology and offered to pay all required fees immediately but no one from the government engaged with them to fix the wrong.
In a follow-on story by the newspaper that broke the original story, The Himalayan Times, the article described the incident as confusion, loopholes and misunderstandings. The article disclosed that the ski permit clause was buried in a document entitled “Tourism Industry Service Delivery Directives 2070” but did not address penalties or any legal action against the skiers. The word ski doesn’t appear in the mountaineering rules document which is what expeditions have used for decades.
The Liaison officer, Deepak Kumar Dahal, who was tasked with monitoring the climbers and making sure they followed all the rules never accompanied Moniz and Benegas to base camp. They received unified support from the Sherpas at Everest Base Camp with over 150 signatures attached to a letter asking the government not to take any punitive action which was critical in the ruling in their favor.
Today again in the Himalayas Times, reporter Rajan Pokhrel reported “The minister was fully convinced about taking a lenient position with Willie and Matt as the Benegas Brothers Expedition has also been supporting Nepal’s economy by bringing tourists and has also created jobs for many Nepali climbers, guides and porters,” a high-level official said. It does appear their agency, High Altitude Dream, will be fined USD$461 or Rs 50,000. Also the liaison officer will be warned regarding the incident.
If a weather window is available to climb both peaks, Moniz and Benegas want to seize the opportunity. They will climb, not ski. They intend to go to the Ministry of Tourism as their first stop when returning to Kathmandu to pay for the ski permit and fee associated with skiing the Lhotse Face. But top on their list is to personally apologize again to the government officials and thank them for their understanding.
This is the correct outcome in my opinion and hopefully everyone has learned a bit more about what is and is not allowed in Nepal as well as some insight into the permitting process. Thanks to director general Dinesh Bhattarai for his balance in this case.
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