Climber Nirmal Purja’s viral photograph of the traffic jam at the top of Everest this past May showed just how bad the situation had gotten. The shot was taken during the final stretch to summit the tallest mountain in the world. Hundreds of climbers had taken advantage of a stretch of good weather to begin their climb, and now they were facing dangerous delays in a location known as the “death zone” for its very low oxygen levels as they waited for their turn to summit. The crowds contributed to one of the deadliest Everest climbing seasons in history.
This Wednesday, in an effort to increase safety, Nepali officials proposed a new set of requirements for those seeking a permit to climb the 29,035-foot peak. As Alan Arnette reports for Outside magazine, the 59-page report stipulates that climbers would need to prove that they have summited at least one 21,325-foot mountain, and that they have paid upward of $35,000 for the expedition, in addition to the current requirements of a health certificate and employing a trained Nepali guide. Expedition companies, in turn, would need to have at least three years’ experience guiding high-altitude climbs before leading Everest trips.
“Everest cannot be climbed just based on one’s wishes,” Yogesh Bhattarai, Nepal’s tourism minister, said at a news conference covered by The New York Times. “We are testing their health conditions and climbing skills before issuing climbing permits.”
According to Gopal Sharma at Reuters, climbers and guides raised concerns after this year’s death toll of 11 climbers—nine on the Nepali side of Everest and two on the Tibetan side—about inexperienced climbers receiving permits. In response, the Nepali government commissioned a panel of government officials, climbing experts and agencies representing the climbing community to make recommendations to better regulate the process.
As the Associated Press reported back in May, the $300 million that the climbing industry brings to Nepal each year is an important sum for the country, which ranks as one of the world’s poorest. There are currently no restrictions on the number of Everest permits Nepal issues annually. In fact, Bhadra Sharma and Kai Schultz of the New York Times report that the number of permits granted has increased just about every year since the 1990s, leading to this year’s record of 381. Exacerbating the situation, there are no limits to how many permitted climbers can make a summit bid at any given time. The timing of the expeditions is at the discretion of the guides.
As is typical, this year many of the teams leapt at the chance to summit during a window of clear weather in late May. But with a good portion of those record-setting 381 permitted climbers, as well as Sherpas and other support people, all en route to the top, the resulting traffic jam was inevitable. “It was like a zoo,” Ed Dohring, a doctor from Arizona who summited at the time, told the New York Times. Others described a Lord of the Flies-esque scene of climbers jostling for position, stepping around dead bodies and desperately taking selfies at the top.
According to Sharma and Schultz, the Nepali government will present the proposed changes to Parliament ahead of next spring’s climbing season.
"We will take this forward by amending the laws and regulations,” Bhattari, the tourism minister, told reporters. “We will make our mountains safe, managed and dignified."