Everest Rule Change: First Permits Get First Crack at Summit?

8000ers Everest
Mount Everest summit crowd in 2019
Everest summit party in 2019. Photo: Madison Mountaineering

A last-minute rule change may throw the Everest season into turmoil. To avoid overcrowding, teams must go in the order of their permit number.

As the prospect of vast lines of climbers getting stuck again in a traffic jam near the summit of Mount Everest becomes more likely, Nepal has issued another peculiar regulation to circumvent that embarrassment.

Outfitters have been told “that first permitted groups will get the first chance at summit push,” Everest Today‘s blogger Chabbi Pokhrel confirmed to ExplorersWeb. “It states that permit numbers 6 to 38 will have to summit in an earlier weather window, followed by permit numbers 40 to 68.” The remaining climbers will have to wait for a third weather window.

Nepal's Department of Tourism Mount Everest summit order rule for 2021

For those who can read Nepalese, the notice issued today by Nepal’s Department of Tourism. Photo: Everest Today

The document, issued by Nepal’s Department of Tourism, was in Nepalese only. According to Pokhrel, it says that if the new regulation creates difficulty among climbing teams, it is the responsibility of the expedition agencies to coordinate the summit pushes and maybe agree to exchange turns. Whatever they do, he adds, “the number of climbers in one push should not be greater than 150 to 170.”

Everest permits at record levels

Permits for Everest in 2021 have already approached the record 2019 levels that created a global outcry after photos of vast crowds of climbers near the Hillary Step went viral. Some of those climbers had to wait so long for their turn on the summit that they perished when they ran out of oxygen, or from exposure or exhaustion from the already long summit push.

Already, officials have issued 377 duly paid permits for Everest, distributed over 40 teams. Yet neither the operators nor their clients had the slightest idea that they might face such limitations, even though because of general COVID uncertainty, most climbers waited until the last moment before signing up.

The measure most affects the teams that obtained their permits last. Three or more summit windows are hardly guaranteed. Even those with an early permit may for some reason not be ready to try when their turn comes. For example, those hoping to climb Everest without supplementary oxygen need longer acclimatization. Then there are those who are either planning a double-header or an “express” Everest climb (offered by some operators, such as Lukas Furtenbach). They have little time to wait their turn.

Problems with Everest rule change

The document also doesn’t specify exactly what authorities mean by “a summit window”. Is it the 24 hours of the summit day? The four or five days needed for the complete climb from Base Camp to the top and back?

How about traffic jams on lower sections, such as the Icefall and the Lhotse Wall? Will the measure apply to those coming from Lhotse and stopping only in Camp 3? Do they mean individual or team permits?

Finally, how are they going to enforce such a decision and stop those who have paid big bucks, including an $11,000 climbing fee? There are no policemen to regulate traffic on the route, and liaison officers are notoriously unreliable.

The first possible answer to all these questions is that everyone will simply ignore the new regulation, as they have previous restrictions on helicopter flights and posting pictures on social media. Disturbing photos of crowds last week on Annapurna have already created a stir in the mountaineering community, and Everest will have six times as many climbers on the mountain.

If the regulations are somehow enforced, everyone will simply have to hope for particularly favorable weather, good conditions on the mountain, and some climbers dropping out and lessening numbers without the need for intervention.

Bahraini Sheikh's mountaineering team

Freeway to the summit: The Bahraini Sheikh’s team has the first two permits for Everest this year. Photo: Bahrain Everest Instagram

So which team has the inside track on this staggered start? Coincidentally or not, it’s His Royal Highness, the Sheikh of Bahrain, and his large Royal Guard team, led by many of Seven Summit Treks’ most experienced Sherpa guides.

The Bahraini team still has time until all the fixed ropes are in place, but they had better shape up in a hurry: According to their Instagram posts, the expedition members have not yet gone through the Khumbu Icefall. Instead, they have spent days practicing their basic skills on the lower seracs.

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About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!

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MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
3 months ago

Hahaha, Coincidence? NOT. Just like Nepal just “coincidentally” decided to recently change the name of two peaks.

+2
arbaz
arbaz
3 months ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

Coincidentally changing the names of peaks to “Royal Bahranian Peaks” and giving the Bahranian team the first summit opportunity. Money talks and I can’t believe they’re giving a regime that has violated human rights so much attention.

+3
Sid
Sid
3 months ago

Wouldn’t it be easier to jumpstart climbing Everest in the fall? If money is the main driving force, with the right processes like having post-monsoon Icefall Docs, cheaper permits, having all companies/agencies that sell/advertise spring Everest trips to compulsorily offer fall expeditions too, they could actually have more climbers and make more money too.

+1
Damien François
Damien François
3 months ago
Reply to  Sid

I will buy an Everest permit for 2300 a.d. I should be the first summiter then…

+2
Damien François
Damien François
3 months ago

The Bharainis, “they have spent days practicing their basic skills”?
Haven’t they climbed Manaslu?
Whoever needs to practice basic skills should NOT be on Everest! Kings, queens, emperors, sheiks, stars, whoever, don’t be on Everest!
This new regulation will of coursebe impossible to enforce.
The Nepal government once more proves it is the 180° opposite of the brave and strong Nepali (high-altitude) workers. What a shame!

+2
Paul
Paul
3 months ago

They are exempt because they donated vaccines…

+1
MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
3 months ago
Reply to  Paul

2000 vaxes iirc. And pretty sure those vaxes were targeted to the porters, support workers and climbing guides they are using, and their villages. So was it an act of selfless charity or health protection for their team?

+1
Don Paul
Don Paul
3 months ago

I like the bureaucracy and think it should slow down the traffic, like speed bumps or regulations of any kind. It puts the government in charge of determining what’s a weather window, which is a little odd, but in US national parks the rangers are often expert climbers, so that’s possible in Nepal too. When I climbed the Nose 30 years ago, you just went to the base and whoever else was there, you got in line after them. Back then one party would start per day, and you’d wait before going up. Now you look at pictures of the… Read more »

Last edited 3 months ago by Don Paul
MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
3 months ago
Reply to  Don Paul

At Denali, only selected/ accredited companies are allowed to guide. So Denali doesn’t get masses of under-prepared novices being guided by bare bones, less safety conscious budget operators. That system would help Everest, but will never happen in Nepal. Nepal is interested in tourist revenues, not in safety, and it’s likely any new rules will favor local operators, whether bad or good.

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Lynn
Lynn
3 months ago

How many ppl can actually summit at the same time?

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