Row over Everest climb permits

everest

Hundreds of climbers forced to abandon expeditions on Mount Everest last year are waiting to hear whether they will be allowed to try again in 2015.

They say they are in limbo because of Nepalese government indecision, weeks before the new climbing season begins.

Officials vowed permits for nearly 300 climbers would be valid for five years after the 2014 Sherpa strike, they say.

The Sherpas boycotted expeditions following the deaths of 16 their colleagues in an avalanche last April.

More than a 12 international operators – and the Expedition Operators’ Association of Nepal – subsequently demanded that climbers from 31 different teams be allowed to try scaling the mountain again as individuals or with any team they wanted to join.

Government officials say they promised to accept the same permits – but only as long as climbers came back with the same teams.

That might not be possible, operators said, because members are from different countries and may have their own plans, priorities and schedules.

“Here we are six weeks away from starting our expeditions and no one knows anything,” says Russell Brice, of Himalayan Experience, who has been bringing foreign climbers to the Nepalese Himalayas for years.

“As expedition operators we are left totally in the dark, it’s gone nowhere in one year.”

Another operator, Gordon Janow, said the indecision meant none of the climbers hoping to use last year’s permits could attempt Everest this spring season, which begins next month.

“At this late stage, climbers who were waiting on a permit decision are likely to late to join given the expense, training time and the need to be away for more than two months.”

Officials say the issue is complicated, however, and they want to discourage expedition teams comprising strangers, for safety and other reasons.

“Making the permits transferable like that was a new thing that required changes in regulations which is a long process,” Tourism Minister Deepak Chandra Amatya told the BBC.

“I have sent it to the Ministry of Law. It should happen pretty soon.”

But Law Ministry officials say existing regulations do not allow climbing permits to be transferable.

“Since the request made by the Ministry of Tourism requires changes in existing provisions, we are studying the issue and working on it,” an official said on condition of anonymity.

Operators say they were brushed off last year when they approached the Tourism Ministry, whose response was “quite cold”.

“We received the reply that they were not convinced we were asking for the right thing and they said we needed to be more professional about our request,” a spokesman said.

Climbing as part of a team in Nepal used to be generally much cheaper than doing so as an individual.

But from January, the government slashed climbing permit fees to $11,000 (£7,000) from $25,000 (£16,000) per person.

Until last year a group of seven had to pay $70,000 (£45,000) which encouraged climbers to club together. Now, regardless of the size of the group, the new fee is across-the-board.

Officials say no new climbing permit have been issued so far for this season.

“Climbing groups are preparing to apply for permits,” Department of Tourism director general Tulsi Gautham said. “We expect the number of Everest expedition teams not to be less than last year.”

Last week, the BBC reported that the route from base camp to the top of Everest will be changed to avoid the risk of avalanches on the left side of the Khumbu Icefall, scene of the 16 April Sherpa tragedy last year.

Expert rope and ladder-fixing Sherpas, known as Icefall doctors, will begin to change the route during the first half of March.

By then expedition teams will begin to arrive at the base camp before starting their ascent in April and May.

The issue of last year’s permits, however, remains far from resolved.