Purja, Elite Exped Accused of Breaking Everest Rules

Editor’s note, May 21: Elite Exped has clarified the confusion around the permitting issues below to ExplorersWeb. See the update here.


Nirmal Purja has made headlines again, this time not for a mountaineering achievement but for allegedly breaking the rules on Everest.

Nepal’s Department of Tourism has started a probe after witnesses and officials said his company, Elite Exped, allowed one of its teams with a permit for neighboring Lingtren to climb to Everest’s Camp 3.

According to The Himalayan Times, Purja also used a helicopter to fly from Kathmandu directly to Everest’s Camp 2, a shortcut forbidden on Everest. Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority is currently investigating.

“Most of the climbers from an 11-member team [from a] Lingtren Peak expedition of Elite Exped, run by celebrated climber Nirmal Purja, illegally crossed the Icefall section of Mt. Everest and reached Camp III earlier this week,” officials told The Himalayan Times (THT).

“Most of the members reached Camp III on Everest for acclimatization but they don’t have a permit to use the Everest climbing route,” unnamed eyewitnesses told these officials, per the newspaper. Camp 3, at 7,000m on the Lhotse Face, is actually higher than Lingtren.

An uncommon peak choice

Lingtren is a rarely attempted 6,713m peak above Everest Base Camp. Elite Exped never announced the expedition, nor did they update about fixing ropes, setting camps, or any progress on the mountain.

Tents in Camp 3 with Lhotse above and lots of snow

Camp 3 on Everest, 2019. Photo: Justin Merle/Paul Pottinger’s blog


Elite Exped counters, 7 Summit Treks explains

Elite Exped wrote letters to ExplorersWeb and The Himalayan Times denying The Himalayan Times’ report. “Robert Hutchinson and Kayla Perez [two members of the group] both had valid permits for Everest,” the company told The Himalayan Times. The rest of the people…only trained at base camp for their preparation to climb Lobuche East. They had the correct permits for this. They did not climb Everest with Elite Exped.”

Their letter contained no explanation or clarification about the team supposedly climbing Lingtren.

ExplorersWeb did see (but has no permission to share) an April 24 Everest permit granted to Seven Summit Treks (7ST) for a team of 15 people (the maximum allowed per permit). This SST permit included Perez and Hutchinson, two of the Elite Exped climbers listed above.

Permit sharing

We asked 7ST about it, and they kindly explained. “These two people were indeed included in our permit as a sharing,” said 7ST spokesperson Thaneswar Guragai.

He said that ‘sharing’ is a common practice among outfitters to maximize each permit.

“If a team has, let’s say, a group of 17 climbers, and another company has a group of 13, it’s common and perfectly legal to add the two spare climbers from the 17-pax group [onto the group of 13’s permit].”

According to Guragay, this is what happened with Hutchison and Perez. “But they were climbing with Elite Exped,” he stressed.

Kayla Perez is a regular client of Purja’s expeditions and an ambassador of the Nimsdai Store, Purja’s mountain gear brand:

Lobuche or Lingtren?

“The rest of the people…only trained at base camp for their preparation to climb Lobuche East,” Elite Exped’s letter read.

It is unclear why climbers planning to go up easy Lobuche East were “training” at Everest Base Camp. Lobuche East is a straightforward and accessible peak on the way to Everest, often used as a first acclimatization before Everest or Lhotse. It is barely more than a hike. Nirmal Purja posted a video from Lobuche last month, where his Annapurna team acclimatized:

In a second Himalayan Times article, editor Rajan Pokhrel notes that non-Everest teams are not allowed to train or even stay at Everest Base Camp, as per this year’s mandate issued by the authorities of the Khumbu region.

Lingtren climbers, on the other hand, share Base Camp with those climbing Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, and Pumori. But again, Elite Exped has not addressed whether those individuals with a permit for Lingtren ventured up the Khumbu Icefall toward Everest’s Camp 3.

We will update as soon as we receive further information from Elite Exped. However, according to Everest Chronicle, Nepal’s Department of Tourism (DoT) has already opened an investigation.

“We received information that a group of climbers climbed Everest without climbing permits,” Rakesh Gurung, chief of the mountaineering section at the DoT told the outlet. “The Expedition Monitoring and Facilitation Field Office in the Base Camp is looking into the issues.”

The EMFFO is a field office of the Department of Tourism at Everest Base Camp.

Rajan Pokhrel confirmed that the DoT had initiated a probe into this Elite Exped case. Until it finishes its investigation, the DoT will not brief the media further.

A tent with the logo of the Expedition Monitoring and Facilitation Field Office at Everest base camp

Headquarters of the Field Office of Nepal’s Department of Tourism at Everest Base Camp. Photo: Gautam Khim Lal

Cheaper permit

At the beginning of May, there was only one team with a permit for Lingtren —  Elite Exped. The group permit cost $4,400, or $400 per person. Meanwhile, an Everest permit is $11,000 per person. (It will increase to $15,000 next year.)

Climbing a peak in Nepal without a permit is serious. Individual climbers who break the law are, at the very least, immediately deported and banned from Nepal for at least two years.

Throughout the history of alpinism, there have been cases of climbers venturing up peaks in Nepal without a permit. But these were mostly small teams with low budgets, aiming for adventurous climbs up difficult (usually new) routes on isolated peaks.

However, showing up in the Base Camp of an 8,000’er, Everest no less, and going up the normal route, with the ropes fixed by others, is another story. This breach of regulations was not done by a couple of young dirtbags but allegedly by a team of Westerners guided by an upscale outfitter.

Helicopter to Camp 2

The permitting issue is not the only Everest controversy involving Nirmal Purja in the last few days. Today, THT published another piece alleging that Purja took a helicopter from Kathmandu straight to Camp 2 on Everest. The Base Camp Management Procedure 2024, approved earlier this year, forbids using helicopters above Base Camp. Nepal’s Supreme Court recently enforced the prohibition, which was confirmed by the Civil Aviation Authority.

“Nims took a heli flight from Kathmandu at around 8:30 am and he landed at Camp II on Everest at around 11:30 am,” an eyewitness from Camp II told THT today.

The paper states that Nims took off from Kathmandu with four other passengers. The others disembarked at Lukla, while Purja continued on his own.

“Nims was taken to Camp II from Lukla via EBC by manipulating the flight records in the name of rescue operations, sources confirmed,” THT stated.

Quoting unnamed eyewitnesses, THT mentioned Purja flew with Prabhu Helicopters and the pilot Sobit Gauchan. ExplorersWeb is trying to contact the helicopter company and Gauchan for comments, as well as Elite Exped. The Instagram portrait below shows Gauchan beside his helicopter.

Everest is currently experiencing its busiest days of the year, with massive summit pushes and turmoil of activity everywhere on the mountain. THT alleges that Purja wanted to reach Camp 2 as quickly as possible to lead a team to the summit tomorrow.

Gyanendra Bhul, information officer at the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, said that his office would immediately investigate the circumstances surrounding the alleged flight.

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides graduated university in journalism and specializes in high-altitude mountaineering 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.