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Fallacy of the pay-per-climb

All this after Nepal’s big plans to minimise congestion.


March 26, 2014 1:36:01 am

In 2013, around 800 people reached Everest Base Camp, aiming to climb the world’s highest peak. Six hundred and fifty one got there. Most of these climbers made their attempt during a small window of good weather between mid-April and early June. Not surprisingly there were lengthy queues — upto a couple of hours long — as prospective summitteers jostled for position on the final push.

Then occurred an unfortunate byproduct of commercialising the most rarified route in the world — a fight broke out between Sherpas (who were laying down guide ropes to the peak) and a trio of European mountaineers (who attempted to bypass them).

Crowds have grown steadily since the mid ‘90s when commercial expeditions first began on the 8848m peak. Tourism — which it really should be called — has now taken its toll. Waste, including food wrappers, climbing gear, oxygen cylinders and even the frozen bodies of unlucky climbers litter the slopes. Some refer to Everest as the world’s highest garbage dump. This year, more climbers than in 2013 (800) will make an attempt.

All this after Nepal’s big plans to minimise congestion. Separate fixed ropes for climbers ascending and descending near the summit has helped ease some traffic. The country has already issued rules for climbers to carry back their trash. Authorities, though, admit enforcement is lax.

At the same time, Nepal has made it cheaper to make attempt Everest. This year’s permit fees were slashed from $ 25,000 to $11,000 per head. Everest has seen some remarkably inept and untrained climbers making attempts in recent years but there is no minimum standard of climbing skill needed before making the big summit attempt.

Reinhold Messner, the first to climb the peak without supplemental oxygen, decried Everest tourism. “You pay and someone prepares the mountain for your climb,” he was quoted as saying. Messner has also advocated that the mountain be closed for a few years so that the debris and garbage left behind from past expeditions be removed.

Messners idea isn’t unprecedented; after the successful 1965 Indian expedition, the mountain was off limits for four years. That happening in the future, however, is unlikely. More than ever, Nepal depends on Everest bucket-listers spending lavishly on permits, sherpas, hotels and equipment.

The shame is that there are unclimbed and far more technically challenging peaks. Few though carry the kind of recognition that Everest carries. Undoubtedly and unfortunately for the majority of the 800 plus numbers who will clamber on its slope, this is what counts.

(Jonathan is a senior correspondent based in Delhi.) jonathan.selvaraj@expressindia.com

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