Everest Authorities Not Pleased With Summit Piano Player and Ukrainian Flag Bearer

Nineteen-year-old Juan Diego Martinez Alvarez of Mexico paid $350,000 for a full-service Everest expedition that included an extra Sherpa to carry a keyboard. He wanted to play a little song on the highest point on Earth. Alvarez had no 8,000m experience — we don’t know about his background as a musician. He summited and played on May 15 this year.

Unfortunately for him, his eccentric world record will not stand. Nepal authorities have rejected his summit certificate. The outfitter (Elite Exped) didn’t ask for permission in advance, they state.

Likewise, 8K Expeditions client Katya Lipka, a Russian citizen who unfurled the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag on top of Everest, has had her certificate rejected as well. Nepal may also ban her from entering the country for several years. Lipka shared her summit pics on Instagram and called for Putin to end the war.

For the Nepalese government, “This is an extremely sensitive geopolitical issue that we cannot take lightly,” said Surya Prasad Upadhyaya, director of the Nepal Department of Tourism, told Everest Chronicle last month.

Reasons

Given the current problem of garbage left on crowded 8,000’ers, both in Nepal and Pakistan, Martinez’s little stunt seems rather harmless. After all, as far as we know, the team brought the keyboard back down.

Alvarez on the summit. Photo: @juandimtza/Instagram

 

Nevertheless, The Himalayan Times claims that the government has questioned Elite Exped leader Nirmal Purja about “inspiring” the Mexican climber to “run illegal activities”.

As for the Ukrainian flag, Lipka is not the only climber to express solidarity with the besieged country. Mateo della Bordella recently won the Cala Cimenti prize for mountaineering values after helping with a rescue on Cerro Torre. He donated half of the prize to ClimbersArmy, a group of Ukrainian climbers currently serving their country.

Katya Lipka’s Everest summit photo with the Ukrainian flag. She also shared a second picture holding a “Free Navalny” banner. Alexei Navalny is the Russian opposition leader imprisoned by Putin. Photo: @lipka.fm/Instagram

 

Nearly all climbers carry or wear their national flags during their climbs. Ukrainian climbers (there was at least one on Everest this year) take theirs too, and they are usually welcome to do so. Everest Chronicle points out that they are asked to report these intentions in advance to their liaison officer.

Everything extraordinary requires prior permission, according to the Tourism Industry Service Delivery Directive 2070. Unfortunately for Lipka, when her post went viral, it reached members of Nepal’s parliament, controlled by the country’s Communist party.  When Elite Exped wrapped the entire summit of Ama Dablam with a 100x30m Kuwaiti flag in 2019 without permission, it also created official displeasure that led to the flag’s confiscation, according to Everest Chronicle.

Strange regulation criteria

The worst thing about flags and other objects is that most of them are left on the summits. When Lipka raised her arms with the flag and Martinez placed his fingers on the keyboard, they were standing on a pile of old flags, banners, photos, toys, and all manner of discarded symbolic items.

People spend a great deal of money to reach the summit of an industrialized Everest. They pursue various personal motivations. If they succeed, they perform all kinds of rituals to highlight the attainment of their goal. It is unclear which of them needs official permission.

Confusing regulations by Nepal’s Department of Tourism, in charge of managing travel in the country’s mountain areas, don’t help. This was the issue, for instance, with Nepal’s restrictions on photographing members of other expeditions. It seemed to be a vain attempt to avoid photos of a crowded summit that could have a negative impact on the industry. Regulations about the use of drones in the mountains is also confusing.

Fair or not, all foreign operators (and their clients) rely on local agencies to verify whether a client’s particular desire can be fulfilled, and if so, what are the requirements. They deal with the bureaucracy and inform their clients how to proceed.

Another summit concert in 2023

French mountain guide Philippe Genin, known as le pianiste-chanteur des cimes (the singing piano player of the summits) plans to repeat the young Mexican’s Everest concert. Genin has already played the keyboard atop Gasherbrum II last year. He reported no problem with Pakistani authorities after the concert. In fact, you could say that he earned extra merit points because he climbed without oxygen and carried his keyboard himself up and down the mountain. Check his concert here:

 

Next year, he intends to play at Everest Base Camp, then stage another summit concert. Genin’s high-altitude music is, he says, a way to praise peace, freedom, the joy of living, love, peoples’ fraternity, and respect for the Earth. But he may want to ensure that he gets permission first. We have asked Genin about this and will update when we hear from him.

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides is a college-graduated journalist specializing in high-altitude mountaineer and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.