POKHARA, AUGUST 24
Ang Phurba Sherpa, who has climbed the highest mountain in the world Mt Everest 10 times, had added another feather on his hat by climbing the second highest mountain in the world Mt K2 in January this year as one among the 10-member Nepali team.
Despite over 14 years of climbing experience and conquering five mountains above 8,000-metres, Ang Phurba has not been provided a mountain guide certificate yet.
"Our profession is to climb mountains and facilitate those aspiring to climb them. We face problems when someone asks for certificate and we are unable to produce it," he said.
Associated with the Himalayan Guides Nepal, Ang Phurba has helped more than 15 foreign expedition teams reach atop Sagarmatha, K2 and other mountains. "When abroad, we command huge admiration and honour when we introduce ourselves as mountaineers. But back home, in the absence of mountain guide certificate, we face difficulties."
He narrated how security officials and the airport staffers at Tribhuvan International Airport had objected when they were travelling to Pakistan for their ascent of Mt K2 last winter.
"We were grilled and barred from traveling further. After two hours of interrogation, we managed to convince them that we were on our way to climb Mt K2," he recalled.
They had to resort to internet to search for news related to their previous ascents and convince airport staffers and security personnel, he said. "Even the Pakistani immigration released us after regular interrogation, but we were detained for hours back home."
If the Government of Nepal had considered providing mountain guide certificate to professional mountaineers climbing mountains above 8,000 metres, things would have been much easier for professional Sherpas, who were not only born in the mountains but also born for the mountains.
Reminiscing the historic Mt K2 winter ascent, the daredevil mountaineer said, "I have attempted to climb K2 four times but succeed twice only." The 8,611-metre mountain in Pakistan is considered a technically difficult mountain.
A nine-member expedition team including him and American climbers had scaled Mt K2. He was the guide in this team. The other members in this mountain guide team of Ang Phurba Sherpa were: Siddhi Bahadur Tamang, Dorje Gyalzen Sherpa, Pasa Dhawa Sherpa, Kama Dorji Sherpa, Ming Dorje Sherpa, Dawa Nupu Sherpa, Lakpa Ongchu Sherpa, Mingmar Sherpa and Company manager Bhola Poudel. He said they saw three or four bodies of mountaineers during their descent after spending around two hours on the summit. Sherpa has been associated with the Madison Himalayan Guides Nepal Company since 2009.
According to him, Nepal's beauty is hidden in the Himalayas and further publicising this huge tourism potential in the world would significantly contribute to the growth of the national economy.
Dorje Gyalzen Sherpa from Solukhumbu who is also in Ang Phurba's team is also a professional mountaineering guide. The 38-yearold has experience of climbing Mt Everest 19 times. He too doesn't have a mountain guide licence. Dorje Gyalzen also called on the government to provide mountain guide licence to those guides who have climbed Mt Everest dozens of times.
The youngest member of the team, 25-year-old Ming Dorje Sherpa scaled the world's highest peak when he was 21 and started his professional career then. He is now associated with Himalayan Guides Nepal. His demand is that the government bring a policy at the earliest to provide mountain guide licence to at least those who have climbed the mountains over a dozen times.
Himalayan Guides Nepal Company Manager Bhola Poudel said his company employs more than 200 mountaineers recognised as 'high altitude porter' from the department of Tourism.
He opined that professional mountaineers who have scaled Mt Everest dozens of times were facing injustice as the government had not provided them the mountain guide certificate. "Our demand is that the government should provide the mountain guide certificate to those who are consistently involved in mountaineering by fulfilling a set criteria," he said.
Poudel said that the number of mountaineers has dropped to 10 per cent after the onset of COVID-19 pandemic. "We are receiving 'inquiries' from many foreigners interested in mountaineering even now. But, they are discouraged by the provisions such as the need to stay in quarantine after arriving in Nepal and other hassles," he said.
The authorities should ease the provisions for mountaineers and foreign visitors who have already had the double dose of vaccine and tested PCR negative. April and May are considered suitable time to climb mountains above 8,000 metres, while September, October and November are appropriate for climbing other mountains. It costs around 35,000- 90,000 US dollars for a foreign national to climb a mountain.
General-Secretary of Nepal Mountaineering Association Kul Bahadur Gurung said that the NMA had been issuing 'black book', 'blue book' and 'red book' by dividing the work experience of climbers into three phases.
He added, "We issue blue book to those carrying out the activities of climbing supporters staying in base camp for three years and red book after three years of issuance of blue book." He stated that preparation was under way for timely revision and amendment to the book.
Gurung further said that there is a provision that one, who has already taken training from NMA and crossed the first, second and third phases would be qualified for 'national mountain guide' as well, as there is a provision to complete a course of International Federation of Mountain Guides Association to get membership of international mountain guide. The number of people getting recognition of mountain guide is only 70.
He opined, "Though the government had agreed to provide mountain guide licence to those who have climbed mountains many times, having a red book and trained in high mountaineering, it was stopped due to a dispute."
The Department of Tourism in 2019 had decided to provide mountain guide to climbers on the recommendation of NMA, saying there are renowned climbers in Nepal, but the NMA suggested that the mountain guide licence could be provided only to those with red book and those who are been consistently in the climbing profession after taking high mountaineering training.
A version of this article appears in the print on August 25 2021, of The Himalayan Times.