The flood of climbers continues to arrive in Kathmandu, trekking to base camp or crossing the border into China. The weather is decent and no serious issues have been reported thus far.
2018 like 2017
Nepal’s Ministry of Tourism has released a few numbers:
- Everest teams: 29
- Everest foreign permits: 275 (thus far)
- Everest Sherpas: 275 (thus far)
They expect to issue a similar number of permits as in 2017 which was 366 foreign climbers on 43 teams. According to Nepal Government numbers, 190 foreigners summited along with 32 fee-paying Nepalis and 223 Sherpas made the summit from the Nepal side last year. Another 100 foreign permits have been issued for other Nepal mountains this year including Dhaulagiri, Kanchenjunga, Makalu and Ama Dablam. I am expecting over 400 total summits on the Nepal side and 200 on the Tibet side for 2018.
Rules and Screening
Dinesh Bhattarai, chief at the Tourism Department that issues climbing permits, told the Kathmandu Post that there has been lack of oversight over expeditions causing controversy and tragedy and “We learned many lessons from the last season. We don’t want to repeat those mistakes,” He went on to repeat the same list of new rules previously published that will make #Everest2018 safer, in his view. They included:
- Team leaders, climbers, high-altitude climbing guides, government appointed liaison officers and agencies handling the expedition are required to follow new rules strictly
- The Tourism Department will verify the health certificates of the climbers more rigorously.
- Liaison officers we will have their locations strictly monitored. They have to wait at the base camp until the expedition is completed and act as a regulator so that controversies on Everest are minimized
- Each climber must have at least five oxygen cylinders each
- The government has also strictly prohibited disseminating controversial messages or broadcasts without prior approval.
On this last item, this is similar to what Nepal tried to do in 2008 when the Chinese closed the north side for the Olympic torch ceremony on the summit. They were fearing protests over Tibet. Climbers were told to sign an agreement that required all communications – written and verbal – to be cleared through a liaison officer (who wasn’t there). As you can imagine, nothing was really enforced. But then an American climber posted an offensive sign on his tent at Camp 1. I was there in 2008 was remember being told that all sat phones would be confiscated and could only be used under the supervision of a Nepali/Chinese solider. They actually came around and took our phones. We had to go to the army camp and request to make a call while an armed guard stood by listening to the conversation. This lasted for only a few days.
This year’s rules seem to revolve around a report last year in the Himalayan Times that Sherpas found 4 dead bodies in a tent at the South Col – it was incorrect but went viral creating embarrassment for Nepal and hurting the finely tuned safety reputation that they try to manage. He also mentioned the report that the Hillary Step had collapsed, apparently believing that telling the world that an earthquake might have altered the landscape would hurt business.
Bhattarai commented on this new screening rule that only applies to “controversial issues” and “Our intention is not to stop the dissemination of news. However, for some controversial issues, prior approval should be obtained from the government.” My sources tell me that expedition leaders have been asked to sign a contract but that social media posts are excluded from any scrutiny.
One final comment on these rules – climbers are required to use oxygen? This is the first I have seen this specific rule of a minimum of 5 bottles each. I guess someone could buy the bottles and not use them but this seems at odds with the spirit of mountaineering. If Nepal goes too far with some of these rules, they risk cutting off the hand that feeds them.
A Helping Hand
Mike Hamill made a good post as his Climbing the Seven Summits, aka CTSS, team continues to trek to base camp on the Nepal side. Anyone who has trekked to Everest Base Camp might have stopped in Pheriche and visited the The Himalayan Rescue Association. This organization cares for locals and visitors alike mostly on altitude related issue and works closely with EverestEr at base camp. Mike fills us in on a bit of the history:
We popped over to the HRA (The Himalayan Rescue Association) this afternoon for their daily briefly about how our bodies react to altitude and how to respond to any signs and symptoms.The HRA is a voluntary non profit high altitude medical clinic. Major credit goes to Dr. John Skow, an American national, who in 1973 went up to the Khumbu and was distressed that many people were dying from Acute Mountain Sickness. He felt that something ought to be done about it. He called together a meeting of officials from the Ministry of Health, some doctors and few other individuals from trekking companies. Another meeting followed with more clear ideas about what to do. The persons from the trekking companies also realized that since it was their members who were affected most should take the initiative. Finally in the third meeting it was decided to form Himalayan Rescue Association Nepal with most of the trekking agencies contributing generously in its early days. They set up some remote medical outposts, including here in Pheriche and there is also an HRA at Base Camp. The HRA have been an integral and critical part of Everest mountain life ever since. We can’t speak highly enough of them and the doctors who volunteer their time. The clinic runs on donations, small fees and merchandise sales.
A Market for Luxury
As I reported last month, Seven Summits Treks who is best known for low cost Everest climbs is using their market presence to cater to the ultra high-end market as well. Their VVIP Package Everest trip costs $130,000 and is promoted on their site with this:
If you want to experience what it feels like to be on the highest point on the planet and have strong economic background to compensate for your old age, weak physical condition or your fear of risks, you can sign up for the VVIP Mount Everest Expedition Service offered by Seven Summit Treks and Expeditions. This service facilitates you to experience the feeling of accomplishment that one gets while succeeding in an adventurous sports, all while providing highest levels of safety and comfort that can be imagined in such a difficult landscape.
For $130K with Seven Summits Treks, you get 12 bottles of oxygen, a private chef at all camps, use of a satellite phone and unlimited internet service, personal attention from the owners and, of course, helicopter flights to avoid that “annoying” 🙄 trek to base camp. You will have two climbing Sherpas and two UIAGM Sherpa guides with you at all times. Don’t forget that before you summit, Seven Summits will fly you in their own helicopter to a 5-Star hotel in Kathmandu from Everest Base Camp to prepare for the summit push. Visit this link for the complete list of services. It appears they have sold at least two spots, potentially four based on their Facebook photos and posts:
One item of interest with Seven Summits Treks. They have been catering to the India and Chinese markets based on their low costs, however this year they seem to be attracting climbers from the US, Canada, and Europe. With all the medical training and climbing skills training for the Sherpas, the base level of support is increasing which is a good trend and could reduce rescues and deaths. They charge just over $30,000 for a climb from the Nepal side compared to the median price in 2018 of $47,000 and the traditional foreign guides often asking $65,000 and up.
Next up are the first real trips through the Icefall. IMG has already sent a few Sherpas up to scout out sites for Camp 1 and Camp 2. They report a wide crevasse just short of C2 that may require five or six ladders lashed together to cross as there doesn’t seem to be a way around. The Icefall Doctors will take this on.
Memories are Everything