Nepal | May 26, 2020

Govt allows American climbers to ascend Everest, Lhotse after illegal ski descent

Rajan Pokhrel
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KATHMANDU: The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation has decided to allow two American climbers who made illegal ski descent on Lhotse Face of Mt Everest to attempt the world’s highest mountain this season.

Overturning a Department of Tourism’s recommendation for action against Willie Benegas and Matt Moniz, a ministerial-level decision allowed the mountaineers to continue their climbing bids on Mt Everest and Mt Lhotse, a source at the ministry shared.

The climbers, who were recreating a twin study of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Mt Everest, landed in soup after they skied on the Lhotse Face without obtaining a ski permit from the department on May 2.

Minister Rabindra Adhikari rejected DoT’s recommendation to revoke their climbing permits as the country’s Tourism Act as well as the Mountaineering Expedition Regulation didn’t have any provision to take action against the skiers, a source told THT.

After receiving the ministry’s reply, DoT’s director general Dinesh Bhattarai also said that both climbers could continue their climbing activities on Mt Everest. “However, they should pay ski permit fee of US$ 1,000 as well as US$ 500 garbage management fund to DoT,” he said, referring to the ministry’s decision. “The DoT will collect the fee against their May 2 ski attempt.”

According to him, the DoT will fine the local agency – High Altitude Dream Pvt Ltd – Rs 50,000 and it will also warn the liaison officer and the expedition’s head guide for their negligence. However, the Tourism Industry Service Delivery Directives-2070m which regulates ski activities in the high mountains has not mentioned any legal action against the skiers as well as others involved.

Considering the climbers’ contribution to Nepal’s mountaineering sector, the ministry found that both climbers made a very innocent mistake on Mt Everest by skiing on the Lhotse Face without a ski permit and the duo was unaware of the ski permit provision, an official shared. “The minister was fully convinced about taking a lenient position with Willie and Matt as the Benegas Brothers Expedition has also been supporting Nepal’s economy by bringing tourists and has also created jobs for many Nepali climbers, guides and porters,” a high-level official said.

More than 150 climbing Sherpas have forwarded a letter to the ministry requesting it to allow both climbers to attempt to scale Mt Everest and Mt Lhotse this season. “As there was no provision in the Act and Regulation for punishing climbers over ski attempts, the Sherpas’ call also played a very important role in convincing the minister,” the official, who closely monitors developments at the ministry, added. It’s still uncertain whether the climbers will resume their climbing activities.

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