Nepal is considering placing new fitness and age restrictions on people who want to climb Mount Everest, officials said Tuesday, as the country looks to enhance safety on the mountain after several disasters in recent years.
The government is mulling barring people younger than 18 and older than 75, as well as those with disabilities, said Mohan Sapkota, a spokesman for the Himalayan country’s ministry of tourism. The new rules also could require that climbers attempting to scale the 29,035-foot mountain have experience on medium-size peaks.
“We are discussing the ways to promote safety for mountaineers. The mountain should not be the place for people to die. It should be a place for adventure,” Sapkota said, adding that the government’s deliberations were at a very preliminary stage.
International Mountain Guides, which has its headquarters in Ashford, has been the largest guide service on Everest since 2009. IMG has placed 381 climbers on the summit since 1991. (However the most recent attempts by IMG and other guide services to summit Everest have been canceled because of falling ice in 2014 and April’s earthquake that killed thousands of people.)
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Greg Vernovage, IMG’s expedition leader the past seven years, says the company has never had a climber 18 or younger or 75 or older in their parties. It has, however, supported several climbers with disabilities.
Vernovage says that on one occasion a client blind in one eye safely reached the summit. Vernovage doesn’t like the idea of rules banning people with disabilities. IMG and Ashford’s Rainier Mountaineering Inc. screen all of their clients before accepting them for an expedition. Among the requirements listed on both companies’ websites are proven mountaineering skills and experience on other high-elevation mountains.
“The way we work is we treat everybody on an individual basis,” Vernovage said. “I want to put all climbers in position where they are set up for success.”
Currently, Vernovage says IMG isn’t worrying about possible restrictions. “Until we see something on ministry letterhead, it’s just talk,” he said.
Everest climbing permits earn Nepal, an impoverished nation, millions of dollars a year, but the government has come under criticism after a series of disasters over the past few years. Officials also have been blamed for granting too many permits.
Hundreds of climbers — ranging from some of the world’s most experienced mountaineers to relative novices on high-priced, well-guided trips — make summit attempts on Everest every year. Novice climbers are guided by experienced Sherpas, but their inexperience puts both the climber and the Sherpa at higher risk.
Nepal currently bars people younger than 16 from attempting to climb Everest, but has no upper age limit. The oldest person to scale the peak was an 80-year-old Japanese climber.
The youngest to reach the top of the world’s highest mountain was 13-year-old American Jordan Romero, who did it in 2010. But Romero climbed from the Tibet side of the mountain at a time when China imposed no age restrictions on climbers. Since then, China has imposed an upper limit of 60 and a minimum age requirement of 18 for climbers.
Last week, Japanese climber Nobukazu Kuriki — who lost nine fingers to frostbite during a 2012 attempt to climb Everest — abandoned his fifth unsuccessful attempt to scale the mountain. Kuriki was the first person to attempt the peak since devastating earthquakes rocked Nepal in April.
The president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, Ang Tshering Sherpa, said he would welcome age restrictions, but added that the government had not yet formally discussed any proposals with his organization.
IMG currently has two expeditions in the Himalaya and plans to send its Everest summit expedition to Nepal in March with summit attempts planned for May. IMG and RMI are still accepting applications for their trips according to their websites. Trips with the Ashford companies are $44,000-114,000 and last 44-46 days. In
Staff writer Craig Hill contributed to this report.