Why China and Nepal Are Battling Over Mt. Everest

Mount Everest
This photograph taken on May 4, 2017, shows a general view of the Mount Everest range from Tengboche some 300 kms north-east of Kathmandu. / AFP PHOTO / PRAKASH MATHEMA (Photo credit should read PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images) PRAKASH MATHEMA/Stringer/Getty Images

The peak of Mount Everest isn’t just the top of the world — it’s the border between Nepal and China.

For decades, the two countries have struggled to standardize regulations for permits and statutes and manage the mountain, as both Nepal and China enforce their own laws regarding it. But now, due to overcrowding and a lack of safety protocol being implemented on the Nepal side of Everest, the mountaineering community and Chinese officials are looking to create a new opportunity for climbers and a tourism economy on the north side of the mountain.

China has announced plans to invest millions of dollars into a new route to the 29,029-foot peak, and has promised to implement stringent safety regulations—which have deteriorated in Nepal. Plans were also released to continue fixing ropes to Everest’s north summit in Tibet at the beginning of each climbing season, a critical safeguard and industry standard carried out on most major peaks around the world—but a safety precaution not practiced on the southern face in Nepal.

China hopes that creating a safer and more reliable climbing environment will bring in tourism revenue, but it will also raise industry standards for big-mountain ascents. Chinese law requires any climber permitted to climb Everest to have already summited a peak above 8,000 meters (just under 26,247 feet). This is an attempt to keep unqualified climbers and operators off of the mountain.

“It’s about going back to the question: Who is this mountain accessible to and how educated are they?” Adrian Ballinger, IFMGA/AMGA mountain guide and founder of Alpenglow Expeditions (the first operator to move exclusively to Everest’s north in 2015) told Men’s Journal over the phone. “Ultimately, I love to see standards on Everest of who can be climbing that mountain. You should have already definitely climbed an 8,000-meter peak if you’re going to climb Everest.”

For Ballinger, the issues on Everest were created by the tourism of climbing, but can also be solved through the tourism of climbing. “People who understand and value that and demand that the highest standards are met—as opposed to the folks who are looking for the cheapest prices—that’s going to create change,” he says. “And that change is going to come from two directions: the top—where the Nepali and Chinese governments will finally settle to regulate the mountain, and people climbing will say that they want a safe, clean mountain and will be willing to pay to create that.”

And so far, the Chinese government and several tour operators are buying into creating that change. To date, three companies (including Alpenglow Expeditions) have abandoned operations in Nepal. The new route in Tibet, helicopter rescue operations, and Chinese regulations are set to be in full operation by the 2019 climbing season.