Everest climbing rules 'to be tightened'

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Expeditions on Mount Everest will be more closely monitored than before from next year, the BBC has learned.

Nepalese officials say that for the first time, a government team will be located at the base camp.

They will monitor and help expedition teams, coordinate rescues and protect the environment.

The move follows embarrassing incidents on the slopes of the world's tallest peak, including a fight between sherpas and mountaineers.

"A need for a permanent government mechanism at the Everest base camp... [will] regulate mountaineering activities," Purna Chandra Bhattarai, chief of the tourism industry division that oversees mountaineering, told the BBC.

"The Integrated Service Centre will also facilitate climbers by offering them communication and safety related services."

Mr Bhattarai says that, starting from next year's spring climbing season, the team at base camp will represent the government's administration on the ground. Observers say it was getting difficult to regulate mountaineering activities from the capital, Kathmandu.

"When there is the presence of the government on the ground, the message 'violating the law is punishable' becomes clearer," he said.

Close scrutiny

Current rules require each climbing team to have a government employee as a liaison officer during expeditions.

But there has been widespread criticism that designated liaison officers often do not even leave Kathmandu and there is no-one to regulate expedition teams on the mountain.

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These days we see people trying to make bizarre records like, for instance, standing on their head or taking off their clothes while on the summit”

End Quote Ang Tshering Sherpa Former president, Nepal Mountaineering Association

"And even when the liaison officers rarely went to the field, they were accountable to expedition teams only and not to the system [of government]," Mr Bhattarai said.

"Now personnel with the Integrated Service Centre will also do the job of liaison officers and that will include checking climbing permits and verifying whether climbers reached the Everest summit.

"Up until now, the information whether someone made it to the summit took time to reach us in Kathmandu while the rest of the world knew about it first through the media. That will change now."

Officials and mountaineering experts also said the new regulations would constrain what they described as a growing competition to set bizarre records.

They said climbers would be required to announce beforehand if they planned to set any record.

"We have had many examples in the past when climbers did not share their plan to set a record beforehand and they made the record claims only after they reached the summit," said Ang Tshering Sherpa, the immediate past president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association - a professional body of expedition operators.

"These days we see people trying to make bizarre records like, for instance, standing on their head or taking off their clothes while on the summit.

"These behaviours don't bode well for the dignity of Everest, which is a global icon," said Mr Ang Tshering, who is also a member of the committee that has recommended the new rules.

"And now the integrated team will make sure that expedition teams inform them beforehand if they intend to make a new record.

"The team will then let the climbers know whether the planned record-making effort falls within stipulated criteria set by the government."

Wishful thinking?

The incumbent president of NMA, Zimba Zangbu Sherpa, said such criteria existed in the past as well and climbers were required to inform the tourism ministry of their plans to set records.

"That rule was flouted and now the idea is to strongly remind climbers what they can do and what they cannot, just when they are about to begin the climb."

Expedition operators, however admit monitoring what happens atop Everest will be almost impossible.

"If climbers still violate the rules, the administration will not be able to stop them because the officials at base camp cannot be expected to reach the summit every now and then," said Mr Zimba Jangbu.

But the integrated team members will now be expected to go above the base camp in case of emergencies, mountaineering experts who contributed in the new policy-making said.

Mount Everest

In a clear reference to an alleged fight between European climbers and their Nepalese mountain guides on Everest last April, they said members of the official team could also have the legal authority to deal with such situations.

The new regulations will also restrict helicopter flights to nearby Everest slopes, officials said.

"Barring rescue operations, helicopters will not be allowed to fly to nearby mountain slopes as the vibrations and even the sound can cause the snow to fall, endangering lives of other climbers," said Mr Bhattarai.

He also said rubbish management will be another major focus of the team.

Under the new rules, there will be no change in the expedition royalty fee - an important source of tourist revenue for the government - at least for now, he told the BBC.

Mount Everest hosts more than 30 expedition teams every year.

Experienced trekking and mountaineering operators said the government's plan sounded good but the question was if it would be implemented.

"The idea of regulating mountaineers from the Everest base camp itself is great (but) only if the officials entrusted with the duty are regulated first," said an expedition operator.

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