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Climbing the World to End Alzheimer's
Aug 122013
 
Guns at Everest Camp 2 in 2008

Guns at Everest Camp 2 in 2008

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.

Everest 2008

Everest 2008 sign at Camp 2 stopping climbers

Police State

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.

New Rules

At the risk of speculation, lets take a quick look at these new rules.

Enforcers

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.

Rescues

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.

Records

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.

Helicopters

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.

Alternatives

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.

Bottom Line

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.

Climb On
Alan
Memories are Everything

Comments on/from Facebook

  21 Responses to “New Everest Rules Won’t Help”

  1.  

    The way the comments are set out the other Kate Smith’s comments are below mine not above. My comments are dated August 13.2013.Life never used to be this complicated ! Cheers Kate

  2.  

    Having read your blog Alan along with the forceful comments made by some I think I can do no better than reiterate the points made by Kat. Never having the opportunity to climb Everest personally I have read in detail and followed carefully many of the world’s most experienced climbers on their attempts.Kat sums the situation up well without getting too personal on any issue. I agree with her absolutely on why and how we should climb these beautiful wonders of nature. Cheers Kate (UK)

  3.  

    I would like to make clear that the above Kate Smith is NOT Kate from the UK who signs herself Cheers Kate. Whether I agree with the above Kate or not it is not the type of language or emphasis of point I would make. Cheers Kate

  4.  

    I completely agree that those who want to climb Everest should have prior experience on a challenging mountain. I think Denali, with it’s vertical climb great than Everest’s (having a base camp at 17,500 feet) would be a qualifier, as would Baruntse, Ama Dablam or another mountain about 6,500 meters.

    My reading of the Nepal gov’ts proposal is that they don’t want tourists (trekkers or climbers) being scared to come to the Khumbu and be attacked by hordes of stone-throwing Sherpas. I’ve been to the region several times, and have almost never seen any form of authority above Namche. My experience has been that the Sherpa people are very friendly and generous; however, I can see the incident from last year having a chilling effect on future tourists, who truly support that region of Nepal.

  5.  

    In a lot of ways, I read your Everest concerns in light of the changing tourism industry. Fifty/forty years ago, intercontinental travel was mostly reserved for the very well off and remote destinations required substantial logistics, resources, and time.

    Today, such tourism is within reach of the masses and as a consequence, the masses show up at all the remote places and the remote places no longer feel remote and loose authenticity and sometimes loose their original appeal.

    Is there a solution to this without making these places again the domain of the rich and privileged, via fees/taxes/permits? I don’t know. But I do know that Everest is not alone in this.

  6.  

    Alan,
    I’m so very PROUD of you for making such sensible points in your post. It seems that the entire spirit of climbing is being ruined by modern attacks (no other word for it) at the endeavor of mountaineering, especially on Everest. I’m no climber but it seems to me that anyone worth his salt would want to climb for the experience and sheer physical effort–all while being surrounded by the boundless beauty of the area. To me this helicoptering and five-star hotel nonsense spits right in the eye of people who have trained for YEARS for one chance on the mountain.
    And you’re right–these rules won’t do a damned thing except increase red tape and cause people to look over their shoulders, wondering who will rat them out if they do something that might be ill-conceived by an authority with little mountaineering experience.
    I wonder how the Sherpa community feels about this. Has anyone interviewed them?
    If you don’t mind, I’d like to share your words on my facebook page. This is important. Please let me know. Climb on, Alan. That is, if you’re allowed.

    •  

      Thanks Kat. I don’t now for sure what the working Sherpas think but suspect the new rules area non-issue for them. They just want to do their job and support their families.Yes, feel free to share the post.

  7.  

    i wouldnt knock a record like first from a particular country.
    if you’re from a country thats a minnow in the climbing world and considering climbing , young or just starting out. what better motivation than to hear someone else from your country is the first to climb a peak like everest…

    i’m from new zealand, who’d have thought a country of four million people would have so many successful climbers and it all started with sir ed hillary, he led the way for so many new zealanders to follow in the mountains, without people like him we may have been far less successful in the mountains…

    good on anyone who conquers a mountain as a first ascent from one of their countries citizens. especially if its a country with a small population or has little in the way of serious mountains, there is so much press coverage given to mountaineers from rich western countries with large populations and often big bucks or big sponsors to bank roll their climbing, sometimes there’ more than just the mountain to overcome to get to the top…when you cant get the same support because you’re from a small or poor country and no one wants to help you out, your ability to summit the big peaks is quite a major achievement… no one was throwing big money at sir ed when he was climbing, he was lucky to land on an expedition that helped him to the top. otherwise no one may have ever known much about him, it opened doors for him that may not have been opened…

    •  

      Wayne, I don’t disagree with your points. Being the first from a country to summit Everest is a wonderful honor. My point is the first from xyz who climbed abc in mno the critera has become so specific so as to claim a record that they become meaningless.

  8.  

    The problem is with people’s ego -.’ conquering/’knocking the bastard off’ etc. Everest has become about status, it’s not a ‘ clean’ climb

  9.  

    But with recent deaths of climbers on K2

  10.  

    As always, a well written account of your opinions about these and other “rules”. While I know that your opinion about bodies being left on the mountain is controversial, I agree that putting lives at risk to retrieve a body is difficult to justify. Do climbers make their wishes known before climbing about the disposition of their remains in the event of an unfortunate outcome? I believe many mountaineers would prefer to have their bodies left on the mountain. And while I sympathize with those left behind. these final decisions should perhaps be made when everyone is not in the throes of their loss.

    This is, of course, just my opinion. I know there are others.

    •  

      Thanks Beth. Some guides ask climbers to declare a “body disposal form” selecting amongst: leave on the mountain, return to Kathmandu for cremation, return home. All of course at additional expense. By signing the form (and having the spouse co-sign if applicable), there is rarely a question of the climber’s choice. In my experience, most select leave on the mountain.

  11.  

    What are the problems as you see it? I hear arguments for why certain plans won’t work but I rarely hear anyone identify a problem with a given solution. It is as though the problems are understood but the solutions are a mystery… I will reread the article are see what I have miseed…. more comments.

  12.  

    Although I agree that the installation of a Nepal government appointed regulator at EBC is useless and likely to lead to corruption.

  13.  

    Everest is not a easy mountain to climb ! Unfortunately people find out the hard way ! I agree with Alan that these new rules don’t really address the issues at all !

  14.  

    Which is clearly not the case

  15.  

    Agree Ellen, but the perception out there is that Everest is ‘easy’ , anyone with enough money can do it

  16.  

    In my climbing career I’ve been struck by different motivations for climbing, and have questioned my own. Ego isn’t a good or safe motivation, but is much in play on ‘ trophy ‘ mountains like Everest

  17.  

    I’m not generally a fan of ‘the market’ but can’t help thinking that it might work in this case. ‘Bagging’ Everest isn’t the trophy it was