Nepal fast losing out to China as Everest operators cross mountain
Kathmandu: Poor regulation and overcrowding are pushing Everest climbers away from Nepal to China, which is investing millions to boost a rival path to the top of the world.
Veteran climbing outfits, fed up with what they regard as a lax attitude to safety on Nepal's southern flank of the 8,848 metre peak, are starting to shift operations to Everest's north side in Tibet.
"The south side is way too overcrowded with inexperienced people," Phil Crampton, a seasoned Everest hand who announced in January his company Altitude Junkies would shift to China, the third such outfit to abandon Nepal in recent years. The exodus could dent a long-standing source of revenue for the cash-strapped Himalayan nation -- Kathmandu raked in more than USD 4 million in Everest permits fees alone in 2017.
A growing chorus of foreign-led Everest operators in Nepal are demanding greater scrutiny of low-cost outfits that have mushroomed in recent years, offering cheap expeditions up the fabled summit.
These budget players are luring hordes of amateur climbers chasing the thrill of Everest but also risking death and injury, climbing experts say, warning that some expedition leaders are ill-equipped to tackle the peak. Seven of the 10 climbers who died on Everest's south in the last two years were summiting with budget operators, according to information from the Himalayan Database.
"What has happened over the last few years on the south side is absolutely intolerable," said Lukas Furtenbach, whose company Furtenbach Adventures relocated to China last year citing safety concerns.
Those pushing for change want to see permit numbers curbed and greater oversight of guides and operators. Nepal introduced new laws in late December barring solo climbers, blind mountaineers and double amputees from scaling Everest, restrictions it said would make the peak safer.
But many mountaineers say the rules miss the mark.
"Nepal needs mountaineering rules and regulations. But for the operators, not for the climbers," said Furtenbach.
Nepal has been criticised as reluctant to introduce much-needed regulations because it fears harming an industry that spins money for the impoverished nation. Meanwhile, China is sending a message that Everest's north is open for business, investing in climbing infrastructure vital for a safe ascent to the summit.
It is building a mountaineering training centre in Lhasa and plans to allow helicopter rescues on Everest's north from 2019, according to Chinese state media.