Re-Thinking Everest: An Aligned Local and International Perspective
Last year, after the “Everest Traffic Jams,” I wrote and published an article titled Everest: Dying for the High and produced a multimedia slideshow for New York Times Dot Earth titled A Sherpa’s View of the Mount Everest Traffic Jam. The article itself was run as a front page feature in Republica national daily’s weekend edition, The Week, on May 25, and I was also later interviewed by the french newspaper La Monde to talk about the suggestions I had proposed in the article.
This week, an article by Mark Jenkins, Maxed Out on Everest: How to fix the mess at the top of the world, has been published on National Geographic. It just so happens, the “6 Ways to Repair Everest” he outlines are not very different from the solutions I had proposed in my report last year.
I was recently told that if one wanted the government to respond to certain public discourses, a document outlining the discourse or proposed policy suggestions had to be submitted to the relevant Minister or Secretary of the relevant Ministry. Perhaps it is worth submitting Mark’s and my propositions to those offices, as well as to the industry’s trade body, to see if there is a response.
In the mean time, here are excerpts from Mark’s and my observations and suggestions on re-thinking Everest. KDS 2012 are excerpts from my 2012 report, while MJ 2013 are excerpts from Mark’s National Geographic report.
Traffic Jam 2012
KDS 2012: The “traffic jam” is not a numbers game alone.With Everest, it is not just about the “how many” but also the “who” that makes all the difference. For now, anyone who is willing to pay is virtually granted the access to Everest. This also means that people of little or no relevant experience are on the trail. Everyone attempting the summit has to follow a single trail, and often there is no room for “overtaking.” And if anyone on the trail is causing delays because that person is on the mountain for the sake of being there, it puts everyone else at risk.
MJ 2013: Now, bumper to bumper at 27,000 feet, we were forced to move at exactly the same speed as everyone else, regardless of strength or ability. In the swirling darkness before midnight, I gazed up at the string of lights, climbers’ headlamps, rising into the black sky. Above me were more than a hundred slow-moving climbers.
Proposition 1: Number of Climbers
KDS 2012: Perhaps it is time the relevant bodies in the government and private sector established some firm prerequisites as to just who may be permitted to summit Everest. They could range from proofs of previous summits selected by industry leaders as a prerequisite, as well as proof of training expeditions conducted in Nepal. The list can go on, and be better developed by experts in the field. But the point is, if everyone who is willing to pay is given a permit to summit, it clearly does not serve the interest of the climbers, the host country, or the trekking community.
MJ 2013: Fewer permits – To limit the total number of climbers and Sherpas on the mountain. Smaller teams – To reduce dangerous traffic jams on the standard Southeast Ridge route.
Proposition 2: Certified Guides, Experienced Climbers
KDS 2012: While shutting down Everest for a season or two might seem radical, at least fiscally, it actually might not be. There are 326 peaks that are open for mountaineering in Nepal. Of that, 25 are in the Solukhumbu region.So shutting Everest down temporarily would not mean taking away revenues from Solukhumbu or the Sagarmatha National Park. It would only mean being able to offer a safer Mount Everest down the line, while promoting other peaks in the region and the country.
MJ 2013: Certify outfitters–To make sure that they meet acceptable standards of safety and mountain knowledge. Require experience–To ensure that climbers and Sherpas are prepared for high-altitude challenges.
Proposition 3: Clean Up Everest
KDS 2012: Considering the climate-related changes, climbers and guides have noticed that Everest, while keeping in mind the US $2,343,000 figure, it may be worth considering actually closing Everest down for a season or two. In that time, the government and private sector could come together to do a few critical things: set up a local state-of-the-art weather station in the area, clean up Everest, and most importantly, re-think the heightened risks that maybe related to climate change.
MJ 2013: Leave no trace – To remove human waste and garbage from the mountain, with penalties for noncompliance. Remove bodies – To show respect not only for the dead but also for the living, who encounter corpses on main routes.
Last May, after publishing my article, I talked to a friend who operates one of Nepal’s largest trekking agencies. I asked him if the industry or the Government would be interested in any of the proposals to slow down and better regulate Everest traffic. He didn’t need much time to think about the answer. “No,” he said. “They make sense, but every one wants the Everest season and no one is thinking about these long-term issues.”