Permit fees for climbing in Sichuan have proved enigmatic in the past, with contrasting information and illogical or inconsistent quotes adding to confusion. Now, thanks to a liaison officer from the Sichuan Mountaineering Association (SMA), we have the official position of the Chinese Government on the required payment for individuals climbing in the Province during 2010.
Last autumn two experienced American alpinists ran into difficulties in Siguniang National Park, when they went to attempt the unclimbed Seerdengpu (aka Barbarian, 5,592m) near the head of the Shuangqiao Valley.
They were told by officials from the SMA that to obtain a climbing permit they needed to apply in person at the Chinese Mountaineering Association (CMA) office in Beijing, and then wait two weeks to get it approved. If they wanted to do a first ascent, the process would take longer and cost more.
Although they managed to enter the Park with papers obtained locally, allowing them to camp and trek, they were tracked to their base camp below Seerdengpu and told in no uncertain terms that they had no permit to climb. They left the valley next day.
GaoWei, a liaison officer with the SMA who is assisting an American attempt on Siguniang this autumn, has offered the following clarification.
According to the Chinese Government, climbing on all peaks above 3,500m requires a permit.
Different peak royalties are payable, depending on whether the summit has been previously climbed or is still virgin.
A commendable development, compared to other governments, for peaks that have already been climbed, is a per person fee. This favours small teams climbing in lightweight modern style. However, it is not available for virgin peaks.
Attempting an unclimbed peak from 6,000-7,000m requires paying a peak royalty of 13,000 Yuan per expedition, though if the peak has already been climbed, eg 6,250m Siguniang, the rate is 800 Yuan per person.
From 5,500-6,000m the equivalent royalties are 9,000 Yuan per expedition or 400 Yuan per person.
From 3,500-5,500m the royalty is 5,000 Yuan per expedition for a virgin peak but only 240 Yuan per person if the peak has previously been climbed.
The one exception is the peak fee for mountains in Sichuan above 7,000m, where a single sum of 8,600 Yuan per expedition is quoted. There is only one mountain above 7,000m in the province - Minya Konka (7,556m)- and it has received several ascents dating back to 1932.
Climbers going rock or ice climbing in the valleys of the province, such as on the icefalls of the Shuangqiao Valley in Siguniang National Park, will have to pay a fee of 240 Yuan
And there is a one-off environmental protection fee of 200 Yuan per person.
Currently one Yuan is approximately 10p
More substantial are liaison officer rates. Chinese regulations state that every expedition must have an LO, and they must be from the SMA or CMA. The cost is 580 Yuan per day. This includes all allowances, food, insurance and equipment, but does not include the cost of his hotel and transport from Chengdu to the mountains.
Generally an LO will not be needed for rock or ice climbing unless the SMA deems the venue to be remote and feels the party should be accompanied.
A permit can be obtained either from the SMA office in Chengdu, or the CMA office in Beijing. Climbers are not required to be present but someone representing them, ie an agent, must be there in person to apply and pay for it.
Although the requirement for permits in Sichuan has been in place since the '90s, it was not strictly enforced until 2009 and the main reason seems to be the four serious accidents that occurred in the mountains last year.
Two of these, the Jonny Copp-Micah Dash expedition to E Gongga and the Hungarians on Ren Zhong Feng, went through official channels but the Russians and Chinese, who were killed in Siguniang National Park, did not have permits (yes, Chinese appear to need permits to climb in their own country).
It appears that the CMA and other regional climbing organizations receive decreasing funding from the Government and that their 'performance' is directly linked to how many accidents occur annually on their patch.