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Nepal May Ban Novice, Disabled, Very Young, and Very Old Climbers From Scaling Everest

After coming under fire for issuing too many permits over the last few years, authorities seem committed to reducing overcrowding at the mountain's summit.
Pierre Longeray
Paris, FR
Photo by Harry Kikstra/Getty Images

It's the world's tallest peak, and it attracts some 600 climbers a year. Nepal issues the permits, and anyone with $11,000 for the document can attempt to scale Everest — young, old, experienced, inexperienced. At least that's the way things stand now.

But that could soon change. Authorities announced on Tuesday that Nepal is weighing the introduction of new restrictions on climbers wishing to ascend Everest. At least 219 people died while trying to scale the 8,848-meter summit between 1922 and 2010, and another 18 climbers lost their lives in the earthquake that struck Nepal in April.


Aside from the notorious traffic jams that have increasingly plagued the route to the summit, the mountain has also become known for the heaps of garbage left behind by climbers — and for the unrecoverable bodies of those who died on their way to the top.

"During my ascent, I had to step over a bunch of bodies. No one has the energy to bring them down," said Charles Hedrich, a French adventurer and sportsman, who climbed Everest in 2006.

Related: Videos Emerge of Climbers Fleeing Mount Everest Avalanche After Nepal Quake

Kripasur Sherpa, Nepal's tourism minister, recognizes the hazards of allowing anyone with $11,000 to climb.

"We cannot let everyone go on Everest and die," he said in a statement. "If they are not physically and mentally fit, it will be like a legal suicide."

According to the proposed rules, only those who can demonstrate previous experience of climbing a summit of at least 6,500 meters would be allowed to tackle Everest. Climbers under 18 and over 75 would be barred from the summit, as would those with disabilities.

Everest is Nepal's most profitable tourist attraction, bringing the government millions of dollars a year. But it's also becoming a headache for authorities who have been accused of issuing too many permits, which has led to dangerous overcrowding on the mountain.

In 2013, two Norwegian climbers complained of being blocked for more than two hours by inexperienced climbers on their way to the summit. While having to wait a couple of hours in line might not seem so bad, it is extremely dangerous to be stuck on areas of the mountain that are prone to rock falls or avalanches.


No, this isn't a photo of leaf-cutter ants in the snow - it's the conga line of climbers on Mt. Everest. Given… — jane canapini (@GrownupTravels)April 28, 2014

Authorities are also concerned about the trash that has been piling up on the mountain. Since 1953, when Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first people to stand at the top of Everest, some 4,000 climbers have scaled the summit, many of whom leave behind tents, gear, and litter that they don't want to lug down.

Related: One Year After Deadly Disaster, Climbers Are Still Leaving Shit All Over Mount Everest

Aside from the debris left on the mountain, natural disasters can hit the mountain particularly hard. Avalanches triggered by the powerful earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25 killed 18 climbers at the Everest base camp in the mountain's single deadliest incident.

Speaking to VICE News on Thursday, Hedrich was doubtful that the new restrictions would prove effective.

"A 6,500-meter summit is hardly a reference," he said. "For example, climbing the Mont-Blanc [4,809 meters] from the Italian side is much harder than [scaling] many 6,500-meter high summits."

"Climbing 6,500 meters is irrelevant when it comes to climbing Everest," Hedrich added. "Up until 6,500 meters, you can be perfectly fine with a guide. But in the last 2,000 meters, you have to be completely autonomous — we're talking a very high altitude. The guide can no longer help you, they have to watch out for themselves first."


As for the age limit, Hedrich noted that "there are people over 70 who are much fitter than young people." In 2013, 80-year-old Japanese climber Yuichiro Miura became the oldest person to reach the summit. Three years earlier, 13-year-old American climber Jordan Romero became the youngest person to get to the top.

Hedrich, a seasoned adventurer who balks at the very idea of limits, was also critical of the proposal to restrict access to those with disabilities.

"What will constitute a disability?" he asked. "I, for example, had some toes amputated because of frostbite — does that mean I can no longer go up?"

Critics of the potential restrictions point out that several of the people who have died climbing Everest in the past few years were seasoned alpinists, and that avalanches don't discriminate between amateur and experienced climbers.

Nevertheless, Hedrich conceded that less overcrowding on the peak could only be a good thing.

"They could look into introducing a draw, like they did with the Ultra-Trail [an annual marathon in the Alps, which limits the number of runners]," said Hedrich. "Each year, people would apply to climb Everest, and a few lucky ones would get to go. The others could wait until the next year."

Last week, Hedrich completed a solo row from the Bering Strait, in Alaska, to Pond Inlet, in eastern Canada — a 3,700-mile journey in the freezing cold. He is now preparing his next adventure, which will see him embark on a round-the-world trip in a one-man rowboat next year.

Should Nepal's proposal to restrict Everest scalings to the very fit take effect, his application would presumably be approved.

Follow Pierre Longeray on Twitter: @PLongeray