After deadly season, new rules would limit who can climb Mount Everest

August 19, 2019, 10:51 a.m.
Discarded camping equipment is scattered around Camp 4 on Mount Everest.
Photo: DOMA SHERPA/AFP/Getty Images

Following the deadliest climbing season in four years, Nepal officials proposed new safety rules for those hoping to climb Mount Everest.

Under the new requirements, climbers must show they've climbed at least one 21,325-foot (6,500-meter) mountain, reports Reuters. They must also submit a health certificate and be accompanied by a trained Nepali guide. Expedition companies would be required to have at least three years’ experience guiding high-altitude climbs before they can lead Everest trips.

The rules were proposed after officials were criticized for allowing anyone who paid for a permit to climb the world's tallest mountain. But as the once-elusive Mount Everest has become increasingly popular, overcrowding has taken a toll, and not just on the landscape. Eleven climbers died during last spring's climbing season. That's more than the lives lost on the mountain in all of 2018, according to the BBC.

The deaths came amid reports of "traffic jams" on Everest. News agency AFP says that on May 22, when the weather was clear, more than 200 climbers were attempting to summit from both Nepal and China. Climbing teams were lined up for hours to reach the top, risking altitude sickness and frostbite while they waited.

The government also is considering putting people in place to manage those crowds. The government plans to put the rules before Parliament for approval before next spring's climbing season.

“Everest cannot be climbed just based on one’s wishes,” Yogesh Bhattarai, the 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.”

How lives were lost

This spring's deaths include American attorney Christopher John Kulish, 62, who died on May 27 while descending from the mountain. The circumstances surrounding his death were unclear. A few days earlier, British climber Robin Haynes Fisher, died at about 28,200 feet (8,600 meters) after feeling ill from what appeared to be altitude sickness, according to NBC News.

Fisher had warned of the dangers of overcrowding on Everest in an Instagram post captioned May 19.

"With a single route to the summit, delays caused by overcrowding could prove fatal so I am hopeful my decision to go for the 25th will mean fewer people," he wrote. "Unless of course everyone else plays the same waiting game."

Climber Nirmal Purja, who was part of the Project Possible Expedition, tweeted a photo of the line.

On Facebook he shared that he counted roughly 320 people waiting to summit. The area is known as "the death zone" because of its dangerously high altitude — 26,247 feet (8,000 meters).

Other deaths include Indian climber Anjali Kulkarni, 55, who died on her way back from climbing to the summit. Her son told CNN she had become stuck in the line above camp four, the final camp before the summit. American mountaineer Donald Lynn Cash, 55, died after fainting from high altitude sickness while descending from the summit.

A small window of opportunity makes things worse

Last year, a record 807 people reached the summit, according to the BBC. This year, AFP reports that Nepal has issued a record 381 permits costing $11,000 each for this year's spring climbing season alone, causing concern about how that level of foot traffic will affect safety.

Danduraj Ghimire, director general of Nepal's Tourism Department, however, told CNN that claims of crowding contributing to climber deaths are "baseless."

"The weather has not been very great this climbing season, so when there is a small window when the weather clears up, climbers make the move," Ghimire said. "On May 22, after several days of bad weather, there was a small window of clear weather, when more than 200 mountaineers ascended Everest. The main cause of deaths on Everest has been high altitude sickness which is what happened with most of the climbers who lost their lives this season as well."

Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was originally written on May 24, 2019.