PEAK hour might never have a traffic jam again. Not on the world’s highest peak Mount Everest anyway.
Nepalese authorities announced this week they plan to introduce regulations which ban inexperienced climbers, disabled people and possibly the very young and very old from attempting to climb Mount Everest.“We cannot let everyone go on Everest and die. If they are not physically and mentally fit it will be like a legal suicide,” the Nepalese Tourism Minister said in a statement.“The disabled or visually impaired people usually need someone to carry them, which is not an adventure. Only those who can go on their own will be given permission.”
The announcement follows a tragedy on Everest last year when 16 Sherpas were crushed to death by an avalanche triggered by a collapsing column of ice above the Khumbu Icefall — a treacherous crevasse-riddled glacier which leads from the base camp to the flanks of the mountain proper.The bans are also particularly timely considering the current release of the adventure drama film Everest, which chronicles the 1996 Everest climbing season in which 12 people died.
One man who supports a potential ban on rookie climbers is Rex Pemberton, who in 2005 at the age of 21, became the youngest Aussie to summit the world’s highest peak.“To be honest, there are people on Everest that should not be there,” Pemberton tells news.com.au. At times it was very frustrating to be on a mountain where you are risking your life and someone with no experience is right next to you.“You’re trying to to pass them or move around them but they don’t have the necessary experience to manage the ropes in a dangerous environment. That can put others at risk.”
Now 32, Rex Pemberton stood upon Everest’s summit for 20 minutes at 9am on the morning of May 31, 2005. Though young, he was an accomplished mountaineer who had climbed in South America, the Alps and New Zealand. Everest was his dream.
The problem, which the Nepalese government now appears to be tackling, is that Everest is also the dream of many people with no mountaineering experience.Rex Pemberton understands the magnetism of the mountain, and the passion of inexperienced climbers, but doesn’t think passion is enough.
“You’re not going to base jump off a cliff if you don’t have any parachuting experience, so I think there is definitely a limit in my mind to who should climb Everest.“You’ve got to have experience going on that mountain. If you have brilliant weather and climbing conditions and a lot of support, you can get to the top with relatively little experience depending on your fitness level and mental strength. But if something does go wrong, it can go wrong quickly and that’s when experience is important.”
More than 4000 people have successfully scaled Mt Everest and lived to tell the tale. Over 250 have died, including six Australians. Up to 800 make the attempt each year. Multiply that final number by three, and you’ve got roughly the number of support staff and climbers crammed into Everest’s makeshift basecamp at 5364m above sea level (Everest’s summit is 8848m).
Compounding the chaos is that the climbing season is super brief. It’s basically the month of May, which sits between the gales of winter and the onset of the tropical monsoon, which brings heavy snow to the Himalayas.
In that tiny wedge of time, summit fever strikes. People who have come come from all around the world, often paying up to $100,000 to guiding companies, demand to be ushered to the summit. It is these people — perhaps moreso than the relatively small numbers of old, weak, elderly and disabled — that the Nepalese government is cracking down on.
Most are not serious climbers. Many are wealthy westerners from industries like finance and banking. In these professions, Everest has become a notch in the belt, a trophy, an addendum to your LinkedIn profile to make you really stand out.
The Nepalese government craves the income from these people — much of it generated via climbing permits — but there’s something it wants even more, and that’s to maintain what it calls the “glory and dignity” of the summit.
The Nepalese government is also no doubt making a play to local interests in being seen to be protecting the welfare of Sherpas, the local mountain guides who many feel are exploited. Remember that all 16 killed in last year’s avalanche tragedy were Sherpas.
Not that all Everest tour companies are rogues who exploit Sherpas and take any old unfit westerner up the mountain. Rex Pemberton says he summited Everest with a company which assessed his physical and mental capacity for the climb before they accepted his money. They even suggested he climbed a lesser peak first.
If the new rules are passed, climbers will be forced to prove they have ascended a summit of at least 6500m altitude before tackling Everest. That’d sort out the bucket-listers from the genuine climbers.
Meanwhile, here’s a quote you might like to ponder. It’s from prominent Australian businesswoman Cheryl Bart, who in 2008 successfully climbed Everest with her daughter.
“I find that when I’m up on the mountain each day I shed what feels like a layer of skin. I shed a lot of the small-minded, petty concerns that we all have. I shed irrelevant items from my life. And each day I feel stronger and purer.
“I am present when I’m on the mountain, in that moment. Gloriously, hysterically alive, wondrously alive. I can’t find that intensity in my day-to-day life.”
There’s no doubt many people seek from Everest not just the notch in the belt, but the feelings Cheryl Bart describes. That sensation of being “gloriously, hysterically, wondrously alive”.
The crux of the matter is, couldn’t people find that on any mountain? Why does it have to be the highest mountain in the world? The Nepalese government might be about to answer those questions on everybody’s behalf.