Australian, Chinese climbers taken to Everest with ‘fake permit’

KATHMANDU: It has been revealed that two mountaineers were taken to the world’s highest peak for an expedition by producing a ‘fake climbing permit’ in the last spring season.

According to the Department of Tourism (DoT), renowned Australian climber Ian James Hibbert, 67, and Chinese mountaineer Xu Zhong Zhou, 62, had never obtained the permit from the DoT to be a part of the Mt Everest expedition in the spring climbing season that ended a month ago. “The duo, however, had been taken for Mt Everest climb by preparing a fake permit,” a DoT official told THT.

A fake permit (identification no. removed) that was used for taking Australian and Chinese climbers to Mt Everest. Photo: THT
A fake permit (identification no. removed) that was used for taking Australian and Chinese climbers to Mt Everest. Photo: THT

The fraudulent act came to the fore a few days ago after the DoT officials discovered two different permits submitted for garbage clearance process under the same expedition, the official shared.

The DoT record shows that it issued a climbing permit for a 12-member expedition led by Chinese artist Sun Yiquan on April 13 while Ian and Xu Zhong were not listed as members of the expedition. “Another fake permit was prepared the same day by using a DoT letterhead and its seal to include two more names in the same expedition,” the official revealed.

The ‘14 Peak Experience Everest Expedition’ ran by Seven Summit Treks had only been permitted to handle an expedition for 12 members excluding Ian and Xu Zhong on Mt Everest, the DoT record shows. “Investigation will reveal soon how another fake permit was made by including two more names.”

Dandu Raj Ghimire, director general at DoT, confirmed that an internal investigation was being carried out by a three-member committee led by DoT’s director Meera Acharya. The panel has already sent copies of both permits to the National Forensic Science Laboratory to verify the signature and seal, he said.

According to fellow climbers, Xu Zhong was seen somewhere between Camp III and IV when Ian was heading for the higher camps from base camp. But, agency officials claimed that Xu Zhong made it to the summit while Ian gave up his bid after ascending up to Camp II. Both climbers, however, couldn’t be contacted to verify the agency’s claim. Ian had climbed as many as 150 mountains since he began mountaineering in his early 20s while Xu Zhong is also a professional mountaineer in China.

The local agencies offer a climbing package for Mt Everest to foreigners charging a hefty sum ranging from US$ 40,000 to US$ 100,000 in the spring climbing season. According to the mountaineering regulation, each foreign climber has to pay US$ 11,000 to the government to obtain a climbing permit for Mt Everest.

“Besides, the DoT collects necessary documents, including copies of passport, resume and insurance paper along with an application before issuing the permit,” another official shared. “Climbing Mt Everest without a permit is punishable while the incident could land the DoT officials and the handling agency representatives in soup.”

Admitting that Ian and Xu Zhong were part of the 14 Peak Experience Everest Expedition, chairman at Seven Summit Treks Mingma Sherpa, however, denied his company’s involvement in the fraudulent activities. “We are ready to cooperate with the investigation of the probe panel,” he said.

Sherpa suspected that a company representative who was assigned to handle DoT task could have played foul with climbers and DoT officials. “The investigation will certainly reveal the truth.”

Though the DoT has not officially made public the summiteers' record yet, it is estimated that over 500 climbers including foreigners made it to the top of the world last spring season.