Overcrowding on Everest: What the Nepalese Government Can Learn From Thailand’s Maya Bay

Each year, 60,000 climbers, guides and tourists visit the region of Everest between Nepal and Tibet.

Hundreds attempt to climb to the 8,850-metre peak, with most climbers approaching from the southern side in Nepal (via the South Col route). In 2017, nearly 650 people reached the summit of Everest.

they both are of great importance to their respective governments, especially in terms of bringing in the buck

Two years later, a record number of 381 climbing permits were issued to foreigners by the Nepalese government for the summit season. No experience requirements are made by the government for the issuing of permits.

However, with 11 deaths in just nine days, this year is on track to become one of Everest’s deadliest seasons. Most of those who have died are believed to have suffered from altitude sickness, which is caused by low amounts of oxygen at high elevation.

The government denied that the permit process contributed to the number of deaths. The only requirement to gain a permit to climb is a doctors’ note deeming the individual to by physically fit.

The number of fatalities is not unusual for Everest. However, the fact that they were recorded to have happened in the same month as the viral picture showing the enormous queue up one of the more difficult parts of the trek has been cause for concern.

Accessing Everest

Everest

Everest used to be accessible to only elite mountaineers, but a booming climbing market has driven down the cost of an expedition. This has opened up Everest to hobbyists and adventure-seekers.

Kenton Cool, who climbed Mount Everest in May for the 14th time while guiding a client, told The Guardian that there were two overlapping issues: the growing popularity of Everest and the declining level of experience among those tackling the mountain.

With increasing numbers of inexperienced climbers, Cool said that he saw some kind of capability assessment as a step in the right direction.

Simon Lowe, the managing director of UK-based Jagged Globe, argued that the queue this year wasn’t the problem, but it had been exacerbated by an underlying issue: incompetent climbers being led by incompetent teams.

Without reforms, Lowe can see guiding on Everest for companies becoming questionable.

Summit Crowds 2019

Furthermore, the summit crowds of 2019, the worst since 2012, have also been exacerbated by unsettled weather. The weather has meant that only five summit days were possible in May, compared to the usual seven to 12 suitable days in the same month in recent years.

Unfortunately, the sudden spell of good weather prompted many of those climbing to go for the summit at the same time and ultimately converge on several notorious sections where only one can pass at a time.

This, in addition to more and more inexperienced climbers and guides, increases the potentially deadly risks on an already dangerous route.

The problems relating to climbing Everest are stacking up quickly.

Whether it’s due to an increased interest in the challenge, a decrease in the experience and capability of climbers, or is perhaps related to the growing unpredictability of the weather (ultimately caused by climate change) that has restricted potential summit days, something has got to change.

This is where Maya Bay, Thailand, comes in to play. It serves as great inspiration for Nepal’s government to see that limiting access to an overcrowding area does a lot of good.

It does sound strange – these two world-famous could not be further apart in terms of their environments, but they both are of great importance to their respective governments, especially in terms of bringing in the buck.

So, what exactly can the Nepalese government learn from Maya Bay?

Maya Bay

Everest

Maya Bay lies on the island of Phi Phi Leh, in southern Thailand. It was an area made popular by the 2000 movie, The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Unfortunately, a sharp rise in visitors in recent years has severely damaged the environment. It was estimated that 80% of the coral around the Bay was destroyed due to over-tourism.

A combination of boats, litter and sun cream had all but ruined the delicate ecosystem. According to the BBC, in 2008, Maya Bay often saw 170 people visiting daily. By 2017, this number jumped to 3,500. Only a year later, 5,000 tourists and 200 boats reached the bay per day.

On 1st June 2018, Maya Bay closed to tourists. Initially, this was only for a four-month-long period.

However, it became obvious to those maintaining the Bay that this was too short a time for the surrounding coral and additional ecosystems to recover.

It was subsequently announced that the bay would be closed indefinitely, with some sources estimating that Maya Bay needed at least four or five years, at least, to recover its coral.

Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation stated that the bay would remain closed until “natural resources return to normal”. 

In May 2019, the Department opted to extend the closure of Maya Bay for two more years. It is expected to reopen in mid-2021.

Already the short closure has positively resulted in ecological recovery – in fact, blacktip reef sharks have been sighted swimming in the waters of the bay.

Those who religiously watch David Attenborough’s documentaries will know that if a predator returns to an area, it means the ecosystem is doing remarkably well in its recovery.

Not only is the Department looking to protect the environment, but it also is using the closure to develop more facilities for tourists and officials, as well as for opting to put an e-ticket system in place.

The future online booking system has the primary aims of limiting the number of visitors and reducing corruption.

It will limit daily visitors to 2,400 a day, which is a significant decrease from the estimated 5,000 that were entering in the years leading up to the closure.

Local tourist operators of Maya Bay have argued that they rely on the beach; it is important that they able to earn a living from it.

So, while the future looks bright for Thailand’s Maya Bay, the criticisms of how Mount Everest is governed keep on coming.

The issues on the popular South Col route, on the Nepalese side of the mountain, have allegedly been growing for years.

This is partly due to an unwillingness by Nepal’s tourism ministry to tackle a constellation of concern, including regulating cut-price trekking companies, permit numbers, and vetting potential climbers.

North of Mount Everest

More promisingly, the Chinese side of Everest (the north) has opted to take a more environmental approach, going so far as to close their side of the mountain while they undertook clean-up attempts.

In recent years, the Chinese side of Everest has become more popular.

Expedition guiding companies have opted for the northern approach because of the dangerous ice fall on the Nepalese side, as well as the exhausting jumble of ice cliffs and crevasses climbers must pass.

In June 2018, Chinese state media said a team of 30 had cleared 8.5 tonnes of rubbish and equipment that had accumulated since April.

In mid-January 2019, Chinese state media announced that China were to restrict the number of climbers attempting to scale Mount Everest from the north by one-third.

This was part of a major clean-up attempt that includes the recovery of bodies of climbers who died at over 8,000 meters up the mountain (known as the “Death Zone”: the air is too thin to sustain human life for a long period).

The total number allowed to climb the mountain via Tibet is limited to fewer than 300 and climbing must be done during the spring season.

China is to set up stations to sort, recycle and break down rubbish from the mountain.

Since 2015, officials in Tibet have required climbers to retrieve 8kg of rubbish, fining climbers $100 for every kilogram they are short. China has additionally stated that it will build eco-toilets and waste collection sites.

On the Nepalese side, organisers of mountaineering expeditions have begun to send large waste bags up with climbers during the spring climbing season to collect refuse that can be winched by helicopters back to base camp.

In fairness, the attempt is there from the Nepalese government to improve the overall experience of Everest.

It should not be forgotten that Nepal is, after all, an incredibly impoverished country, especially as you get outside of Kathmandu and away from the teahouses along the trekking routes.

However, given the state of the summit this year, a lot more can be done to ensure that the natural side of the world’s highest peak is protected.

Conclusion 

A huge cleanup initiative is needed, similarly to the one taking place on the north side of the mountain.

It would not be unjustified to include a vetting process of sorts to ensure that only the most capable mountaineers are the ones making the vicious climb to the top.

Rigorous training is needed for the Sherpas (the Himalayan people with incredible mountaineering experience who accompany each climber as they attempt the peak).

Their safety and skills are compromised when summiting with inexperienced climbers and minimal equipment (most importantly, spare oxygen).

Hopefully, pressure from the outside world and from within the mountaineering community itself will influence those are involved in all aspects of Mount Everest.

From the summit and the base camp to all of the other available Himalayan treks, it is necessary to look past the profits and instead look into a world where the forces of nature and the will of humanity can co-exist.

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