Media around the world have reported that the Everest peak fee has been slashed, prompting warnings of further overcrowding. In fact, as Ed Douglas explains, the changes include a modest increase for most Everest permits, some welcome reductions on other peaks – and some complicated politics.
When Nepali newspapers reported that peaks fees were being slashed, the response in Western media was predictable. Many journalists reported that the price of Everest was coming down, and warned of even more overcrowding.
In fact, as things stand, most climbers will end up paying a bigger peak fee than they do now, but it’s easy to see why most journalists couldn’t figure this out. Dealing with the Nepali tourism ministry is complicated at the best of times, and in this case they were unusually adroit in burying the bad news.
In the past, if you were a rich person, you could buy a single Everest permit for $25,000. Alternatively, you could buy an expedition permit for $70,000, which was good for up to seven climbers. You could then add a further seven people to that permit at a cost of $10,000 each – giving a maximum possible yield of $140,000 on a permit.
Still with me?
Given that even quite rich people don’t object to saving $15,000, most elected to join guided expeditions with a fixed permit cost of $10,000. Expedition outfitters became very adept at sharing their clients around different permits so that almost everyone only ended up paying $10,000.
What the Nepali authorities have done is to end this system of a fixed seven-person permit for $70,000, with a further limit of an additional seven climbers each paying $10,000. Now everyone will simply pay $11,000 each.
So for the vast majority of climbers on Everest, the cost has actually gone up by a thousand bucks.
The increase may have some unnerving consequences. The rationale behind the tourism ministry’s changes is to put an end to large groups of disparate individuals getting together to share a permit, which they argue increase risk. Actually, as Simon Lowe of Jagged Globe told The Guardian, it won’t improve safety at all.
‘This will open the floodgates for anyone to say: “I'm an expert mountaineer”, get a client and away they go.’ Lowe said. ‘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.’
Quite why this has been done is a matter of speculation. It may simply be that the Nepali authorities are reacting to negative media stories about big, cheap expeditions. Or else it’s the result of some careful lobbying by vested interests worried by the impact of new, Sherpa-led teams cornering the bargain end of the market. More Sherpas and other Nepalis may now try to find clients.
The good news, and there is some, includes a reduction on Everest during the other three climbing seasons, monsoon, post-monsoon and winter. Climbers in the post-monsoon season will now pay $5,500 – and not to have face the crowds. Even better news is the big reduction on fees for other 8,000m peaks, down from $5,000 to $1,800 per climber in the spring.
Nepali tourism officials also said security forces will be posted at Everest base camp as part of an increase of government supervision. ‘We will open an office at base camp with a team of government officials, including the army and police personnel. This will make it easy to resolve any conflict,’ Ministry official Tilakram Pandey told Reuters.
‘The presence of security officials at the base camp will give a psychological feeling to climbers that they are safe.’
Although not, presumably, from the mountain. That’s something the police still can’t control.