Nepal proposes new Mount Everest permit rules, but efficacy is questioned

The Nepalese government now requires a certain amount of experience.

August 15, 2019, 2:17 PM

The Nepalese government proposed new requirements for climbers and guides to get permits to climb Mount Everest, following a deadly season on the world's highest mountain.

The proposed rules include requiring a climber to have reached the summit of at least one peak above 21,325 feet (6,500 meters), and requiring a guide company to have at least three years experience organizing high-altitude climbs and charging a minimum to clients to avoid low-budget operations getting to the mountain.

"I think they're all good proposed changes and hopefully will prevent inexperienced climbers or inexperienced guide companies from getting up onto the mountain and getting in trouble," Garrett Madison, the founder of Madison Mountaineering, told ABC News. "But it's also hard to enforce these regulations, so I don't know if they'll have much effect in the end."

Eleven people died on Everest during the spring climbing season, making it one of the deadliest on record. Most of these deaths occurred on the south, Nepal side of the mountain, and many pointed to crowding and bottlenecks as the reason for the fatalities.

However, while professional mountaineers and Everest experts agree there are too many inexperienced climbers on Everest, they disagree it was crowds -- and thus the number of permits issued -- that caused the deaths. Rather, they point to inexperience itself, as well as a limited weather window seen this season.

While the proposed changes are a step in the right direction, Madison said, they wouldn't do enough to actually have an effect on the mountain, whether by limiting the number of permits or by cutting off inexperienced climbers and guide companies.

"It's not very challenging to meet these three points, and I don't think it's going to reduce the number of climbing permits issued on the Nepalese side of the mountain," he said.

PHOTO: This handout photo taken on May 22, 2019 and released by climber Nirmal Purja's Project Possible expedition shows heavy traffic of mountain climbers lining up to stand at the summit of Mount Everest.
This handout photo taken on May 22, 2019 and released by climber Nirmal Purja's Project Possible expedition shows heavy traffic of mountain climbers lining up to stand at the summit of Mount Everest. Many teams had to line up for hours on May 22 to reach the summit, risking frostbites and altitude sickness, as a rush of climbers marked one of the busiest days on the world's highest mountain.
Project Possible/AFP/Getty Images

For one thing, climbing one 21,000-foot mountain is relatively easy for experienced climbers -- especially compared to tackling the 29,029-foot Everest. For another, Madison said, "How do you submit proof of climbing a 6500-meter mountain?"

He added that it could be easy to forge a certificate or photo to use as proof.

Additionally, the three years experience for a guide company rule could be easy to get around as well, Madison said, as many sherpas can claim that time in high-altitude climbs.

The Nepalese government has proposed new rules for climbing Everest in the past, typically after a deadly season that makes news. In fact, the government proposed the 6,500-meter requirement once before, in 2015.

PHOTO: Fatalities on Everest 2018 vs 2019
Fatalities on Everest 2018 vs 2019
ABC News

Madison, who summitted Everest for his 10th time on May 23, when crowds reached a peak in two senses of the word, said there needs to be a better vetting of prospective climbers, possibly through a stricter application or screening process. Guide companies, too, should be held to a higher standard, he added.

But, he said, it's not "really in the interest of the Nepalese government" to limit the number of permits as the climbers fuel the country's economy.

The expedition leader does have one theory to help the crowds, though, which he is testing in the coming weeks: attempt Everest in the fall, rather than the spring. Although the autumn season makes it a tougher climb with more snow on the mountain after the monsoon season, Madison thinks it could be an option, and he's trying it this year, hoping that a successful attempt will encourage others to do the same.

PHOTO: Everest the highest mountains in the world.
Mount Everest in an undated photo.
STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

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