Nepalese officials say they will introduce regulations banning inexperienced climbers from attempting Mount Everest in an attempt to improve safety and maintain the “glory” of the summit.
Kripasur Sherpa, the country’s tourism minister, said he hoped to implement the rules in time for the spring season, which usually sees hundreds of mountaineers from across the world attempt to reach the 29,029ft (8,848 metres) summit of the world’s highest peak.
Permits to climb Everest will only be given to those who can prove they have already scaled mountains that are higher than 6,500 metres, officials said. Disabled, old and very young people also face bans.
“We cannot let everyone go on Everest and die. If they are not physically and mentally fit it will be like a legal suicide,” he said.
“The disabled or visually impaired people usually need someone to carry them, which is not an adventure. Only those who can go on their own will be given permission.”
The permits cost thousands of dollars and are a key source of revenue for Nepal. It is unclear how the demand for “proof of competence” might be enforced.
Climbing on Everest, which was first conquered by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953, has become controversial in recent decades.
Every year about 600 climbers come to Nepal hoping to reach the summit, creating a multimillion-pound industry and bringing problems of overcrowding.
Junko Tabei, who became the first woman to conquer Everest in 1975, expressed concerns last week about the numbers of mountaineers on the peak.
“Allowing a large number of climbers in a season poses high risks to the mountain environment and the climbers as well,” Tabei said.
Various measures have been suggested to ease overcrowding and make the mountain safer for guides and their clients.
A ban on those people who are under 18, over 75 or disabled would not affect numbers substantially as such climbers are very rare. The first disabled climber ascended Everest in 1998, an American mountaineer who had lost part of one leg in a traffic accident. In 2001, a blind climber reached the summit. The mountain has been scaled by a 13-year-old and an 80-year-old.
However, there is more support for regulations banning novice climbers.
Whereas once Everest only attracted the world’s best and most experienced mountaineers, recent years have seen aspiring summiteers who are using basic equipment such as an ice axe and crampons for the first time.
Totally reliant on their paid guides for their safety, and incapable of helping any other climbers who might be in trouble, such people are often a liability, veteran mountaineers have frequently argued.
“Such a rule is going to be introduced to maintain the glory of Everest,” said Mohan Krishna Sapkota, acting secretary of the ministry of tourism.
He said that now “everyone is going to Everest”, levels of risk for all involved had become much higher. “The Everest summit should be dignified and an issue of glory, so for that the ministry is working on introducing some limits,” Sapkota said.