Chinese state media has announced plans to only grant 300 permits for the 2019 Everest season—a third fewer than in 2018—in addition to restricting climbing to spring, as part of its new efforts to clean trash from the peak.
Last summer over 16,000 pounds of trash was recovered from the mountain, including discarded oxygen canisters, tents, stoves and refuse, plus large amounts of excrement. In a typical two-month Everest expedition, climbers produce an average of 60 pounds of excrement per person. In the 2018 season, porters carried down 28,000 pounds of excrement, but lots of this fecal waste is never packed out.
China says the new restrictions are also in place to assist in the recovery of bodies stuck high on the 29,029-foot peak. 293 climbers have died attempting Everest. Six perished on the peak in 2017, and five in 2018, including Japanese solo climber Nobukazu Kuriki on his eighth attempt. Currently, over 200 bodies remain on the mountain, many in the so-called Death Zone, or the area above 8,000 meters.
The southern side of Everest, located in Nepal, has drawn higher numbers of climbers in the last decade. This is largely due to concerns of instability in the China-controlled Tibetan region to the north, particularly after China abruptly curtailed Everest access prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In recent years, only a fraction of Everest summits are made from the north side. According to the Himalayan Database, however, this margin is narrowing.
Many veteran tour operators have been shifting operations to the north as a result of the overcrowding on the Nepalese side. Additionally, safety concerns from an influx of low-budget, loosely regulated guide outfits in Nepal have driven more operators to the Chinese side. Though Nepal attempted to impose restrictions on blind and double-amputee climbers last year—the Supreme Court ultimately stayed the rules— the government has been loathe to impose regulations on operators, which bring in substantial revenue to the country.
Other issues on the Nepalese side include environmental hazards, such as the affect of global warming on the Khumbu Icefall. The Icefall is an obstacle all climbers must cross to summit from the south, and is growing more unpredictable as global temperatures rise. The Icefall has claimed nearly two dozen lives in the last five years alone.
Despite slashing the number of Everest permits for 2019, China is still capitalizing on the operators abandoning Nepal. The price for a Chinese Everest permit now costs $9,500—no far off the $11,000 Nepalese fee. Furthermore, China plans to allow helicopter rescues this year, a luxury formerly only available from the Nepal side. China is also continuing construction on a massive mountaineering training center in Lhasa.