Climber Adrian Ballinger on the New Mount Everest Rules and What Nepal Should Do Next

The mountain massifs around Mt. Everest (8848m) and Nuptse (7861m) as seen from Kala Pathar (5545m), Gorakshep, Solo Khumbu, Nepal
The mountain massifs around Mt. Everest (8848m) and Nuptse (7861m) as seen from Kala Pathar (5545m), Gorakshep, Solo Khumbu, Nepal Frank Bienewald/imageBROKER/Shutterstock


After a tumultuous climbing season filled with overcrowding issues, waste concerns, and deadly accidents, government officials in Nepal have proposed a new set of rules that likely would limit the amount of climbers able to plan expeditions up Mount Everest, according to the New York Times.

The new guidelines would include rules that climbers must have previous experience scaling large peaks, as well as new rules about experience for tourism and expedition companies. This year, at least 11 people died or went missing while climbing Mount Everest, nine of which were on the Nepali side of the mountain, according to the BBC. Nepal’s tourism ministry has proposed the rules and while they have not officially gone into practice yet, they have been under consideration since early 2019 and likely would be implemented before the 2020 climbing season.

“Everest cannot be climbed just based on one’s wishes,” Yogesh Bhattarai, the Nepali tourism minister, said at a news conference. “We are testing their health conditions and climbing skills before issuing climbing permits. We will take this forward by amending the laws and regulations. We will make our mountains safe, managed and dignified.”

Here are the details of the new rules:

  • People looking to climb Mount Everest must have climbed at least one peak of more than 6,500-meters (21,325 feet) before getting a permit.
  • Climbers will need to submit a report of good health and physical fitness.
  • Climbers will need to be accompanied by a trained Nepalese guide.
  • Clients of expedition companies would have to prove that they had paid at least $35,000 for the expedition.
  • The government may also require mandatory health checkups at Everest Base Camp (per the New York Times).
  • Tourism/Expedition companies will need to have at least three years experience organizing high-altitude expeditions before leading trips on Mount Everest.

Climber Adrian Ballinger, who recently became the fourth American to climb Everest and K2 without supplemental oxygen, has been traveling to Nepal since 1997 and had a few thoughts about the new rules and guidelines.

“My first impression was that the officials actually did take their time to think about these rules,” Ballinger told Men’s Journal. “After all the news came out this past year about the chaos on the mountain, I expected a knee jerk reaction right away. These new ideas are the types of regulations I think they need to put in place. Having said that, my next reaction was thinking about how the government actually will implement these rules and if they can work.”

Adrian Ballinger on his climb up K2
Adrian Ballinger making it to the summit of K2. Adrian Ballinger

 

Ballinger, who is an Eddie Bauer Mountaineer and CEO of Alpenglow Expeditions, a full service mountain guide company that does trips to Everest, spoke with Men’s Journal about the new rules, what it means for climbers, and what could be next for Mount Everest expeditions in Nepal.

Do you think these new rules will help with the recent problems at Mount Everest?

The problem is not pure overcrowding, but also it’s the experience levels of clients and companies, and also the ethical and moral decision making of a lot of these new and inexperienced companies. The new rules are trying to address that. They’re saying that you need to prove some level of experience for your clients, and you the operator needs to have some level of experience with high-altitude. So I think they’re in the right spirit. I don’t know if this ever made the mainstream media, but a while back I got an email from the ministry of tourism that said they were considering raising permit fees to $25,000 per person from $13,000 per person. And I thought that was a terrible start, because I just didn’t think it should be done with money. It seems like they went back to the drawing board—it had nothing to do with me—and they kept thinking about it, and this is a decent start.

What challenges do you see about these new rules and how they could be enforced?

I’ve been going to Nepal for over 20 years, and while these rules are in the right spirit, Nepal’s nonstop problem over the years has been corruption. Nepal has talked about rules before, about garbage and things like that, but the system as it’s currently set up is so darn corrupt, there’s just no actual implementation of the rules and it still comes down to money. And each team if they, you know, “appropriately tip” their liaison officer, then they never have to follow the rules.

These new rules are especially challenging, because let’s say ‘Joe the Client’ needs to have climbed a 6,500-meter peak before, who’s going to prove that? If the government pushes that back onto the companies and say “you have to prove this,” that’s never going to happen. Twenty years ago when you went and climbed in Nepal, you used to have to get a letter from your Alpine Club. So the American Alpine Club used to have to write a letter endorsing my trip to the Himalayas or wherever it is. Even that seems smart to me. The Alpine Club used to ask me questions, like “What’s your climbing background?” I think like everything, the actual effectiveness will be in how they implement those rules and if they implement, and I am a bit skeptical.

As someone who is involved in expeditions yourself as CEO of Alpenglow Expeditions, what are your thoughts about the new rules for companies?

Since I’ve moved my operation to China and Tibet, sometimes some people think I’m anti-Nepal, but I still go to Nepal every year, and I love Nepal. I’ve been going on trips there for 22 years. As for the rules for companies saying they need three years of high-altitude experience, will Nepal actually find a way to enforce that? That’s mostly going to stop more new companies from coming in, which I think is smart. It’s not going to lower the amount of companies that are already there, but again it’s a start.

Do you think the rules need to go further? Or any other rules that should be implemented?

I do think some of the rules should have gone a bit further. My company, Alpenglow Expeditions, our requirements are three 6,000-meter peaks, one 7,000-meter peak, and one 8,000-meter peak before going to Everest. We turn away probably 70 percent of our inquiries or encourage them to do other things with us versus going straight to Everest. So we’re on the high end of that experience requirement, but I think one 6,500-meter peak is not enough. I think they should have gone further. Same thing with company requirements. The proof will be in the details of these new rules. Like when they say “three years of high altitude experience before guiding Everest,” do they mean 8,000-meter peaks like Manaslu and Cho Oyu? Those sound pretty good to me. Or do they mean Island Peak (Imja Tse), which is more of a walk-up, 6,000-meter peak? We need to see more details on that part of the rule.

What do these rules mean for the future of climbing Mount Everest in Nepal?

For as much as I think some rules should go further, this is a good first step. Some people out there are like, “they should shut Everest.” Well, to me that’s complete horseshit. I believe in Nepal, I do believe they can do this. Tourism is important enough to them that they have to do it, it’s going to take time. But it’s a big step and we should support them and help you figure out how to support these rules. Because they’re heading in the right direction. I think they know they have to. I want to be supportive of that. Even though I’m not guiding Everest on that side.