Ski descent by American climbers exposes loopholes in mountaineering policy

KATHMANDU: The recent ski descent by two American mountaineers on Mt Everest has exposed glaring deficiencies in the country’s mountaineering policy.

There is no mention of any ski permit provision in the Mountaineering Expedition Regulations as well as in the Tourism Act under which the government issued climbing permits to the expedition members for different mountains, according to stakeholders.

The ski decent by Willie Benegas and Matt Moniz on Mt Everest is being scrutinised by the Ministry of Culture Tourism and Civil Aviation as per the action recommended by the Department of Tourism which wanted their climbing permits for Mt Everest and Mt Lhotse be revoked. “The DoT wants to take legal action against the climbers as per the Tourism Act but the same Act as well as the Mountaineering Expedition Regulations framed under it haven’t mentioned anything about the ski sports,” a renowned mountaineer Tendi Sherpa said.

The DoT officials, however, said that the recently formulated Tourism Industry Service Delivery Directives-2070 regulated the ski activities in the high mountains. “How can a foreigner understand a Nepali text wrapped under a vague document?” a climber reacted. According to him, the government officials never talked about ski or skydiving or paragliding provisions with the climbers during the period of pre-briefing.

The incident has also raised a serious question over the role of liaison officers as the government officials assigned to accompany the world climbers to the high mountains ultimately failed to show up.

“The LOs are responsible to aware the climbers of do’s and don’ts in the mountains and what they have been paid for,” Pasang Sherpa, a climbing guide from the Everest base camp said. “In case of Willie and Matt, their LO – Deepak Kumar Dahal – has never made it to base camp to meet with the climbers,” he added. Not only Dahal, most of the LOs knocked the doors of ministers, leaders and even the Prime Minister to get listed in the LO roster. “Surprisingly, the LOs are fully unware of the ski permit provisions,” a DoT official revealed.

The LOs who charged each Mt Everest expedition nearly USD 3,000 to provide necessary support to the climbers of the respective team have been making mockery of the Tourism Act, which clearly states that every officer must accompany the team for the period commencing from the date of departure for mountaineering expedition to the date of arriving after completion of mountaineering. “All LOs must be certified by the government recognised physician having physically able to go up to the base camp of the related mountain,” the Regulation says.

Interestingly, the representatives of High Altitude Dream, a local agency handling the Benegas Brothers Expedition, appeared to report to the DoT that they were kept in the dark about their plan to ski on Mt Everest. “How can Willie and Matt hide a pair of skis while heading to Mt Everest from Kathmandu?” a fellow climber questioned, adding that the duo were accompanied by climbing Sherpas assigned by the local agency to the Mt Everest base camp.

“The climbers would have obtained a permit or not skied if they had known about the regulations beforehand. The duo was unaware of the ski permit provision. It’s their innocent mistake,” Tendi Sherpa further added.

More than 150 climbing Sherpas have already forwarded a letter to the ministry requesting it to allow Willie and Matt to attempt to scale Mt Everest and Mt Lhotse this season. “But, the chances are very slim as the ministry secretary as well chief of the tourism industry division already approved DoT’s director general’s recommendations,” a ministry source said.

Fellow clambers, however, hoped that the authorities took a lenient position with Willie and Matt as the Benegas Brothers Expedition has been supporting Nepal’s economy by bringing tourists and has also created jobs for many Nepali climbers, guides and porters. “Banning the renowned climbers from Nepal means a huge loss to country’s economy as the government has set a target to bring in two million tourists each year by 2020,” they said. According to them, Willie who has been running expeditions in Nepal for over 20 years actively involved in rescuing climbers and saving their lives on Mt Everest.