KATHMANDU: Nepal is considering banning severely disabled climbers and those deemed too old from Everest and other mountains in an attempt to improve safety, the head of its tourism department said Monday.
The proposals come five months after an avalanche triggered by a massive earthquake killed 18 people at Everest base camp and are aimed at improving safety, but they are also likely to spark accusations of discrimination.
“We don’t think we should issue permits to people who cannot see or walk or who don’t have arms,” tourism department chief Govinda Karki told AFP.
“Climbing Everest is not a joke... it is not a matter of discrimination, how can you climb without legs? Someone will have to carry you up,” he said.
“We want to make the mountains safer for everyone, so we have to insist on some rules.”
Karki said the government was also mulling issuing permits only to Everest climbers who first scale another mountain above 6,500 metres to prove they can handle the world’s highest peak.
Hundreds of climbers abandoned their bids to ascend the 8,848-metre (29,029-foot) mountain after the April disaster, marking a second spring season with virtually no one reaching the summit.
An avalanche the year before killed 16 guides and triggered global debate about the huge risks borne by Nepalis who fix ropes and repair ladders to help climbers with varying levels of experience.
But Everest has in recent years drawn multitudes of climbers wanting to overcome their disabilities and achieve the formidable feat.
New Zealander Mark Inglis, who lost both his legs to frostbite, became the first double amputee to reach the top of Everest in 2006.
Blind American Erik Weihenmayer scaled the peak in May 2001 and seven years later, became the only visually-impaired person to summit the highest mountains on all seven continents.
Kathmandu-based mountaineering expert Elizabeth Hawley dismissed the government’s proposals, calling them unjustified.
“I don’t think the government is in any position to judge someone’s capacities or draw that line for mountaineers,” Hawley told AFP.
“Erik Weihenmayer is an exceptional climber who is consciously setting an example for blind people, showing what they can do. It is inspiring,” she said.
Karki also said the government was considering “a new requirement that anyone who wants to climb Everest should first climb another mountain with a height of at least 6,500 metres” to prove they can handle the world’s highest peak.
Officials were also keen to limit access to all of Nepal’s top Himalayan peaks to climbers aged between 18 and 75, he said.
Nepal does not grant climbing licences for Everest to anyone under 16 but has never imposed an upper age limit.
Japanese adventurer Yuichiro Miura, 82, currently holds the record for the oldest climber to summit Everest, at 80.
Mountaineering is a major revenue-earner for impoverished Nepal, home to eight of the world’s 14 peaks over 8,000 metres.
The April 25 earthquake which killed nearly 8,900 people raised fears for the immediate future of the tourism industry. -AFP