Nepal mulling ban on solo Everest climbers
Nepal is considering banning foreign climbers from scaling Mount Everest alone in a bid to reduce accidents on the world’s highest peak, an industry official said yesterday. Solo climbers would be forced to take a local guide up the mountain amid concerns of safety, overcrowding and piles of rubbish on the “roof of the world”, the president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association said.
The proposed ban is likely to anger elite solo mountaineers, who enjoy the challenge of climbing alone, even eschewing bottled oxygen, and who blame a huge influx of commercial expeditions for littering the peak. The proposal is one of a string of measures being flagged ahead of the start of the climbing season in late April, and comes 12 months after a brawl on the mountain between three European climbers and local guides. “We are considering making it compulsory for individual foreign climbers to take along a local guide when they go to Everest, to reduce risks and prevent accidents,” said Ang Tshering Sherpa, whose association represents tourism promoters.
“Most of the accidents that take place on Everest involve mountaineers from abroad who don’t use local guides,” Sherpa told AFP. Sherpa said the guides would also help climbers carry down garbage in line with new rules requiring each mountaineer to bring back 8kg of rubbish from the mountain. “Individual climbers are exhausted by the time they make it up there, they have no energy left to bring down garbage and end up adding to the rubbish on Everest,” he said. Government officials and tourism promoters will discuss the proposal at a meeting with representatives from India, China and Pakistan next month in Kathmandu, he said.
Last year’s brawl shocked the mountaineering community and fuelled worry that overcrowding on Everest was raising tensions and leading to dangerous standoffs. The fight erupted when the Nepalese guides asked the mountaineers to wait while they fixed ropes on an ice wall for other climbers. The Europeans refused, saying they were free to ascend since they did not need to use the ropes, sparking a violent argument. The government has since announced plans to double the number of climbing ropes on congested and dangerous ice walls near the summit to reduce cut traffic and prevent arguments. Authorities have also decided to station soldiers and police at Everest base camp so climbers can approach officers in case of any trouble.
Nepal intends to distribute free mobile SIM cards to trekkers travelling alone to remote corners of the country, to address safety concerns and aid any rescue efforts, an official said yesterday.
Tens of thousands of independent trekkers arrive in the Himalayan nation every year, with the majority travelling through the scenic Annapurna, Langtang and Khumbu regions.
Recent reports about missing hikers prompted the government to launch the new initiative, which will see officials distribute mandatory SIM cards to all solo trekkers when they apply for required entry permits. “We hope to start distributing free SIM cards within a month,” said Sharad Pradhan, spokesman of the national Nepal Tourism Board. “The cards will allow us to trace the location of missing trekkers, so we can get them help in a timely fashion,” Pradhan told AFP. He said plans were also underway to develop an easy to recall emergency number that stranded travellers could contact in case they needed urgent help. A 39-year-old German tourist, Ümit Aslim, was reported missing last month while on a five-day trek along the Annapurna circuit. Last November, a 23-year-old Australian, Matthew Allpress, was listed as a missing person when he lost contact with his family back home while trekking through the same region.
Trekking groups in Nepal are required to travel with a guide, however, it has never been compulsory for independent hikers. A rash of assaults on foreign travellers in 2012 led to US Embassy and British Foreign Office warnings against trekking alone.