In an effort to “restore dignity” to Everest, the Nepal Ministry of Tourism announced a new set of rules effective for the 2014 season.
While I applaud the intent and it is positive that Nepal is doing something to mange Everest, malady these rules fail to address the root cause of concern most climbers and observers have about the worlds highest mountain – crowds and environmental damage.
Sadly, most of rules are window dressing. Conrad Anker is quoted as saying “The ministry is an expansive, dysfunctional bureaucracy,”
Oddly, there has been no official press release from the Ministry that I have seen, only this one BBC article which has been widely reposted. So I remain skeptical that this is real. Perhaps it is a trail balloon to test reaction, or worse just a bad idea not fully endorsed by the key players.
Purna Chandra Bhattarai outlined the rules to the BBC starting with the creation of an organization called the “Integrated Service Centre” or ISC. The new rules include:
- An ISC team at base camp will represent the government’s administration on the ground
- Integrated team members will now be expected to go above the base camp in case of emergencies
- Climbers would be required to announce beforehand if they planned to set any record.
- Barring rescue operations, helicopters will not be allowed to fly to nearby mountain slopes
What is not changing are the permit fees, qualification to guide on Everest or qualification to climb Everest.
In 2008, Nepal effectively had a police state at Base Camp at the request of the Chinese. This was to stop protests regarding Tibet during the Chinese attempt to carry the 2008 Olympic torch to the summit – on the North side.
Yes, the South side was shut down to all climbers until the Chinese accomplished their goal on the North. I was on the South in 2008 and it was, let me just say, uncomfortable.
The Nepal military patrolled the camps with guns looking for satellite phones, and video cameras. They shut down access to the upper mountain with armed guards. It was everything mountaineering was not.
While the news rules should not be that heavy, most still represent a step away from the spirit of climbing.
At the risk of speculation, lets take a quick look at these new rules.
Having an enforcement team at EBC will only work if they have the knowledge of infractions (permits, trash, summit claims). So this may lead to “in-team spies” who report on the rule breakers. I cannot image a worse framework for mistrust amongst teammates, Sherpas, cooks and porters.
There are processes already in place to verify permits (checkpoints), summits (Himalayan Database) and trash (permit deposits). Improvements should be made based on these existing rules, not creating new ones.
The notion that this team of Government officials will coordinate rescues high on Everest is ambitious to put it politely. Most successful rescues require immediate reaction from those closest to the scene. They often give up their own oxygen or medicine to save a life.
The notion that there is time for a committee to discuss a strategy, send up individuals who have the training, skills and strength to rescue someone seems ill conceived to me. I like Conrad Anker’s idea of a dedicated team of skilled professionals, probably Sherpas, stationed at Camp 2 prepared with the appropriate gear and medicine to assist anywhere on the mountain.
One of the major objectives of the new rules seems to be to discourage claims of silly records. I actually support this idea but again, the rule in and of itself will not prevent anyone from going home and declaring to their local press about their achievement.
This has been a long time problem in mountaineering with false claims of summits, etc. but recently Everest has attracted some very silly claims and needs to be stopped. This is why I seldom comment on any record including speed, contrived first, without oxygen or absurd ones such as naked, standing on one foot or their head or sleeping. I cannot verify them nor have any interest in doing so.
The way to address the claims is not to.
Finally on helicopters. One of my favorites quotes from 2013 was “Everest Base Camp was like camping at an airport.” Without a doubt, the entire helicopter scene is out of control.
The new rules talk about “vibrations disrupting the mountain”. I don’t know about that but I do think wealthy climbers using helicopters to ferry back and forth before, during and after their climb is a total farce with respect to the spirit of climbing.
The six day trek in is part of the experience and critical to the acclimatization process. The trek out is two or three days and a chance to reflect on the experience. If it was a week or month trek out, then maybe a little help would be appropriate but a few days …?
In 2013, professional climbers flew all the way to Camp 2, thus avoiding the “hassle” of the Khumbu Icefall. Others claimed records but flew off the mountain from high camps. Then there were those who took a sabbatical during their climb down valley or even to Kathmandu to stay in 5 star hotels before their summit attempt. Come on, man! Where does this stop?
Clearly the use of high altitude helicopters to save someone’s life is 100% appropriate but to recover a body? I don’t think so. Nor do I think Sherpas should risk their lives bringing a body down. Bodies should be respectfully moved off route but left on the mountain. But that is clearly my own opinion.
While the new rules did not mention putting a ladder on the Hillary Step, once again, I think this is a bad idea. You can read more here.
So what new rules are needed?
Climbers must have previous experience above 7000m to be on a team, preferably attempting an 8000 meter peak. Just climbing Denali, Aconcagua or Mont Blanc is not enough.
Guides must pass a scaled down version of the AMGA/IFMGA certification test to be certified to guide members. Just summiting Everest 15 times is not enough to be the primary guide for today’s members.
Sadly, I don’t see any of this happening or the new rules making a positive impact. So the bottom line remains, personal responsibility.
Each person who attempts Everest has a responsibility to go with the proper experience, skills and attitude. They should not go assuming their guide will take care of them. They should not assume other climbers will give up their summits to save their lives. Many should not go at all.
By the way, none of these new rules would have prevented any of the deaths in 2013 or the infamous fight.
I believe “mountains are for everyone” but that is not carte blanche to trash a mountain or risk other people lives for your own ambitions.
Memories are Everything