Mountaineer Doug Scott founded the CAN charity. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Mountaineer Doug Scott founded the CAN charity. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Britain’s first Everest summiteer has called for radical measures to stop what he calls the ‘madness’ now occurring on the mountain.

Mountaineer Doug Scott, along with Dougal Haston, posted the first successful ascent of the world’s highest peak by Britons in 1975.

In a speech in Nepal, he called for a series of major changes to the system for high-altitude tourism in the country, to prevent what he called man-made tragedies on Everest. He said the widely posted photograph taken by Nirmal Purja of huge queues of people waiting to ascend the Hillary Step near the summit of the mountain sent shockwaves round the world.

So far this year, 11 people have lost their lives on Everest.

Scott has called for more stringent restrictions on those granted permission to climb the peak, along with better control of companies running expeditions.

The Cumbria-based climber, who is also the founder of the charity Community Action Nepal, told a gathering in Kathmandu last week he had spoken to numerous Sherpas and mountaineers before drawing up his proposals. He had deep concerns about the uncontrolled commercialisation of Everest, he told the meeting of Nepalese policy makers, travel industry professionals and international media.

There is also a wider problem of untrammelled tourism in the country he said.

“My personal experience recently in the Everest region is that there are so many trekkers they are backing up along the trails,” he told the audience. “It’s hard to take a photograph now without another trekker getting into the shot.

“A disappointed friend of mine visiting in April found the tea and lodges to be like fast food joints, where they want to get people in and out as fast as possible.

Doug Scott addresses the Kathmandu gathering. Photo: Claire Souch

Doug Scott addresses the Kathmandu gathering. Photo: Claire Souch

“Everest and other 8,000m summits – pre 1986, there was one expedition per season per route, which was wonderful, with time and space to be there communing with the mountain as well as with each other.

“In those days you just had to wait for an opening. After 1972 we had to wait again until October 1975. But we didn’t mind waiting. It was part of the experience. Now, people are impatient and want to rush to achieve their goals and move on.

“All have seen Nix’s (Nirmal Purja Magar) recent images from Everest where now the climber may be one of a thousand people at the base of mountain. And with 500 people on the mountain with no chance to commune with the divine in nature, nor with one’s inner self.

“We must respect the fact it is the highest – a world heritage site, considered to be of outstanding universal value and to many, the abode of the gods, and in particular Miyolangsangma, the deity of the Sherpa communities.

“We have to discuss not only how to protect this sacred mountain, and all mountains, but also protect what is sacred to mountaineering. Respecting the style of the first ascent.

“Given the large number of people now being attracted to reaching Everest summit by the original route and the increasing number of deaths, it seems inevitable that the number of permits will have to be limited after deciding the carrying capacity of Everest as is done on Denali, the highest peak in North America.

“But how to protect the mountain from the tyranny of numbers and at the same time accommodate those who have come to rely on Everest and other popular mountains for their income?”

Scott said, working in collaboration with local people, environmentalists and the government, he proposed that: quotas should be introduced for Everest and the number of permits reduced.

Permits for Everest should only be given to experienced climbers who have climbed at least one, if not two, 7,000m peaks elsewhere in Nepal first. This would have the positive effect of dispersing the economic benefits of mountain tourism to other mountain areas of Nepal, not just those living in the shadow of Everest.

He said it would further ensure that people attempting to climb Everest have the competence to climb safely and an understanding of the challenges of climbing in the Himalayas.

Everest permit fees should be increased, he said, for the general wellbeing of the mountain and the people who live around it and work on it.

“Peak royalties should help to improve the working environment of the local guides by ensuring full insurance cover and also setting up a welfare and compensation board to cover accident and death in support of bereaved wives and children.”

The mountaineer said commercial agencies operating on Everest should be properly accredited to reduce the number of companies which charge unrealistically low fees and deploy inexperienced staff.

“These staff may be unable to control fee-paying clients with little or no experience who ‘rush on when they should turn back’,” he said.

A fairly remunerated mountain rescue group should be established from an elite core of Sherpas and other local mountain guides who could stand by to assist with rescues. This same group could be employed to fix ropes at the beginning of each season and to remove them at the end of each season.

Sherpas and other guides should be paid well for collecting, sorting and recycling rubbish and waste from the mountain and glaciers.

Given the progress Nepal is making in so many other areas, Doug Scott said he remained confident a solution can be found to resolve the challenges on Everest.

He told the audience: “It can be done, and with the resourcefulness and resilience of the Nepalese people, it will be done.”

Scott’s charity Community Action Nepal has been operating in Nepal for more than 20 years. It works with local communities in the mountainous areas of Nepal, raising their standard of living and strengthening indigenous community-based culture.

Scott and other fellow mountaineers initially identified the need to improve the economic working practices of expedition porters, and this led them to realise that the communities they came from also faced major social problems which needed to be tackled.

CAN has constructed a number of porter shelters in the high and remote mountain areas to improve the working conditions of porters, and has worked with many local communities to build and staff schools and health posts, improve sanitation and support income generation.

Some articles the site thinks might be related:

  1. Everest summiteer Doug Scott appeal for funds for charity to help Nepal victims
  2. Scott and Bonington will join inaugural Mountain Arts Festival at Rheged
  3. Scott and Greaves become mountain council patrons
  4. Mountaineers: don’t put ladders on Everest’s Hillary Step
  5. Nine ascents and 135 characters for a Cool Everest record