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Nepal Changes Fees to Climb Everest: But Are They Lower or Higher?

Reaching the crowded flanks of Mount Everest during the 2014 spring climbing season will now cost $11,000 per climber. The public has been informed that these fees are substantially lower than they used to be, which will allow a broader range of climbers to scale the world's highest peak. But have the costs to scale Everest truly decreased?

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Will the new fees encourage small teams of experienced mountaineers to climb Everest?Reaching the crowded flanks of Mount Everest during the 2014 spring climbing season will now cost $11,000 per climber. The public has been informed by international news organizations such as ABC and the Guardian that these fees are substantially lower than they used to be, which will allow a broader range of climbers to scale the world’s highest peak.

Madhusudan Burlakoti, head of Nepal’s department of mountains, explained to the Guardian that the fees for individual foreign climbers have been reduced from $25,000.

“We hope to attract more climbers and at the same time better manage the climbing teams,” Burlakoti told the Guardian. “This will allow smaller teams and individuals more freedom when they climb Everest.”

While the individual climber’s fee has been reduced, the discounted fee for a group of seven or more climbers has been eliminated. Previously, a group of seven or more climbers could join together and attempt Everest for a discounted fee of $10,000 per person.

Adrian Ballinger of AlpenGlow Expeditions explained that the common practice for climbers was to always join a team of seven or more.

“So in practice,” wrote Ballinger in a blog post titled Nepal *Raises* Fees to Climb Mt. Everest, “an individual or small group of less than seven always joined forces with other small teams or individuals under a single permit and ‘leader’ to only pay $10,000/person.”

Ballinger claims that although small teams and individual climbers are essentially paying $1,000 more to climb the peak, the new fee structure could actually “be a good thing for Mt. Everest.” His reasoning is that under the old fee structure small groups or individuals traveled on the mountain with virtually no “accountability” to the Nepali government because they had no real supervisor or team leader.

“What happens is a local Nepali operator applies for an Everest permit, makes one climber the ‘leader’ on the permit and then just adds the small teams and individual climbers onto the permit,” wrote Ballinger in an e-mail exchange with Rock and Ice. “There is no actual team structure, and no leader.”

The abolishment of the group discount, according to Ballinger, will encourage individuals and small groups to attain a permit instead of just joining a larger group for mountain access, which in turn will make them “directly accountable for their actions to the Nepali government.”

According to Ballinger, teams with permits are held liable by the Nepali Government for any trash left on the mountain and expedition rescues operations.

“I’m hoping that if the change actually encourages individuals and small teams to have their own permit, at least the Nepali government will have an easier time tracking and holding accountable teams that are trashing the mountain, having accidents,” Ballinger told Rock and Ice.

Climbers leaving trash on Everest has become a serious issue and according to Ballinger, managing the waste is difficult without the proper infrastructure.

“Unfortunately Nepal has not thus far effectively managed climbing on Everest. Their attempts, while possibly well-meaning, generally seem to turn into profit-making schemes.”“While I believe it would be ideal for climbers to be responsible for their impact on a mountain, this has often not worked,” Ballinger writes. “Most climbers want to practice LNT (Leave No Trace) principles, but the harsh reality is most can’t and don’t while attempting the hardest climbs of their lives (be that Everest or something much harder). When survival and exhaustion become the focus of the climb, LNT principles tend to go out the window. This is where a managing body needs to hold teams accountable.”

According to Ballinger, popular mountains in Europe and America have a governing body that effectively manages climbers.

“On popular mountains in the US (like Denali) the government manages the mountain to ensure teams (guided and unguided) properly dispose of trash and human waste,” writes Ballinger. “The government (National Park Service) is also involved in rescues and rope-fixing on Denali, and in regulating commercial use (guiding) on the mountain. The same is true in Europe.”

But Nepal’s management in the Himalayas has not been effective, according to Ballinger.

“Unfortunately Nepal has not thus far effectively managed climbing on Everest. Their attempts, while possibly well-meaning, generally seem to turn into profit-making schemes,” he writes. “I worry that the same will be true here.”

Ballinger is doubtful that the new fee restructure will actually encourage small teams to attain a permit and not join larger expeditions. The fees for waste removal and attaining a Liaison office are not included in the permit fee, which still makes it cheaper to join a larger party.

“Unfortunately I believe the cut-rate operators and the climbers that sign onto cut-rate trips will continue to share permits, since while the $11,000 permit fee will be the same, they will still save on costs like the liaison officer and garbage deposits,” writes Ballinger. “These costs, while not large, would increase the per climber cost if teams had their own permits and therefore their own liaison officers and garbage deposits. So, climbers looking for the cheapest trip will continue to share permits and these costs, once again reducing accountability.”

Other notable guide services have expressed displeasure with the new fee structure. According to Simon Lowe, managing director of Jagged Globe, the new lower individual fees may encourage small parties to climb on Everest without the safety of a big team.

The Nepalese government collects 3.3 million dollars every year from climbing fees.“This will open the floodgates for anyone to say, ‘I’m an expert mountaineer,’ get a client and away they go,” Lowe told the Guardian. “If something goes wrong they’ll have to reach out to other teams. Help is always given, but it’s frustrating when you end up having to help people who shouldn’t be on the mountain.”

Without the group discount, large teams will now face a higher cost to climb Everest. But for experienced mountaineers who would rather not be forced to join a random, unregulated party and attempt Everest with a smaller, unguided team, fees have been greatly reduced: from $25,000 to just $11,000.

Also, for the first time in history, the Nepalese government has created a special $750 permit fee for Nepalese climbers.

The Nepalese government collects 3.3 million dollars every year from climbing fees. With a lower individual fee, Burlakoti has expressed hope that more climbers will now have access to the mountain. It remains to be seen, however, how the new fee structure will affect traffic on the overcrowded mountain. Will the higher cost of guiding drive away guide services and lower the numbers of guided climbers on the peak thereby reducing the deadly “traffic jams” that have plagued the peak for years? Will the new fees encourage small teams of experienced mountaineers to climb Everest? Perhaps there’s hope.