Pythom Special: Sean Burch Sorts Out Nepal Climbing Permit Rules

Sean sounds off

Recently Nepal media reported local authorities planned legal actions against several mountaineers for climbing peaks without a permit.

Climbers (US and Spain) said the issue was sparked by a local journalist who either had not talked to them at all or interviewed them under false premises, fabricating most of the finished story.

One of the mountaineers was American adventure athlete Sean Burch who was named Goodwill Ambassador to Nepal by its government in 2011 (Exweb’s Correne was there). Sean has been running across the country for different world records, and this fall he climbed 31 low peaks there to set another athletic first.

Soon after he was rumored to face heavy fines and risking to be banned from climbing in the former Kingdom.

The details were sketchy and confusing. Besides, I asked in an editorial, regulating the big peaks is one thing but what happened to just running up a local hill?

We offered Burch an interview to sort out what can and cannot be done in Nepal. So other climbers won’t have to face this type of ordeal, here goes from Sean.

Pythom/Exweb: Hi Sean, what’s going on? I’m a bit puzzled, I understand they were mostly low peaks?

Sean: You are correct regarding the permits. Here is my understanding:

In Nepal trekking peaks are regarded peaks below 5,800 meter; the government has also decided to promote peaks, measuring less than 5,800 meters as trekking peaks.

(Source: Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN), May 2014)

Furthermore, all mountains less than height of 5,800 meter will be promoted as the trekking peaks.

(Source: Government of Nepal, Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation, May 21, 2014)

Therefore, only if a person is to climb mountains over 5,800 meter s/he need permission – a permit. Below this altitude it’s not required.

That’s why all mountains mentioned on Nepal Mountaineering Association website (grade A + B) are above 5,800 meters and only those are applicable to these rules of permits, etc.

I would assume this is for the same reason that base camps for expeditions for higher altitude are often set up below 5,800 meter, in order to abide by these rules and avoid perhaps unnecessary paperwork and cost for those just trekking to base camps.

If one would climb above 5,800 meters in West Nepal however, all expedition peaks in West Nepal are free, but paperwork is required… one of the reasons I picked Western Nepal for this type of expedition goal.

For expedition peaks which are above 5,800 meter, and above 6,500 meter indeed a liaison officer is required, etc. which is not the case for trekking peaks below 5,800 meter.

Once a person has obtained official trek permits related to the area (e.g. Humla trek permit) and stays below 5,800 meters it should fall within the laws of Nepal.

In my case the highest point reached from the 31 mountains was below the 5,800 meter point (19,006 ft. which is 5,793 meters), which falls within the trekking area limitation and thus no additional permits were needed by the trekking agency I hired, hence the immigration department never notified the trekking agency on the matter I would assume. All summits were verified by Iridium satellite technology and 3 government entities, which I posted the letters online.

By definition I never reached the 6,500 meter line and stayed below 5,800 meter, so a liaison officer was not required either. I never climbed nor reported to climb the particular mountains Kangnun Himal, Chandi Himal, and Changla Himal, which were stated in the initial article as being above 6000 meter, and that I had climbed them.

Furthermore I am not living in Nepal and never have been, and not ‘employed’ by The Nepal Trust, as suggested in the article. I have been working to help raise awareness and funds for the people of Nepal for over 14 years, and with this expedition was tying to promote the good work of The Nepal Trust for their support towards improving of community development in the Humla district, especially women and child health.

I have and will always maintain high standards of ethics both personally and professionally, and respect the laws of Nepal; and never, at anytime tried to hide or undermine the laws established. I hired a trekking company to get all the necessary permits as per the expedition goals.


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

Sean Burch to Hidden Himalaya for unclimbed peaks attempts

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