Climbing Permits Current: It’s My Planet Too (Editorial)

Nepal Peaks and Permits current

Back in 1998, I believe it was, word spread that my Spanish team mate Inaki Ochoa had climbed Lhotse in an almost overnight ascent from base camp. The mountain was jumping except for me. When Inaki showed up in my tent we had a talk.

Climbing without permit in Nepal has been a famously tricky affair. If you get caught you’ll be slapped with tens of thousands of dollars in fines and theoretically banned from re-entering the country in the next 10 years.

If you do it as part of an organized expedition the blame will fall on the leader. In Inaki’s case, that leader was me. We had permits for Everest, not Lhotse, a tempting skip up from camp 3 on the shared route.

Well, we worked it out because, quite frankly, Inaki was worth trouble like that. Besides, who was I to judge.

Many years prior Tom and I had been hiking across hills and valleys to get to Everest base camp in Tibet. No liaison officers, no cooks, no porters, no leaders. Just two kids, wide eyed in the magnificent Himalayan range.

Some of those hills we scaled were in the 5-6000 meter range. Were they unclimbed? Who knew? Were they “permitted”? Who cared?

This was our adventure, exploring our planet. Survival was on our minds, not paperwork.

Early last month Santi Padrós, Oriol Baro and Roger Cararach reported two first ascents on +6000 meter peaks in the Nepalese region of Solukhumbu. The guys hiked around, saw a chance to try something new, and grabbed it.

According to Desnivel, The Himalayan Times checked in with the climbers soon after for a supposed interview, only to afterwards headline the article “Spaniards scale ‘sacred peaks’ without permission from the Department of Tourism”.

Another recent case (albeit a bit different) is Sean Burch who climbed no less than 31 (!) peaks in a very short time. Was he supposed to he have permits for them all?

Climbers are not millionaires. They can’t afford – like the commercial outfits can – the liaison officer, kitchen staff and administrative costs involved in climbing permits. Besides, their climbs usually happen when spotting a nice target or if the weather offers a sudden chance.

I applaud Nepal’s efforts to crack down on summit cheating and I understand (sort of) the general need to regulate the most popular peaks and routes in our world. But the latest developments make me sad. What happened to running up a hill just because it looked awesome from a distance?

We’ve offered Burch an interview to at least sort out what can and cannot be done in Nepal these days. Stay tuned.

Story update:

Pythom Special: Sean Burch Sorts Out Nepal Climbing Permit Rules


Climbers banned? Sherpa outlawed? Nanga safe? Pythom Q&A with ACP