In the aftermath of the recent hiking disaster in which at least 41 people were killed when a blizzard and avalanches swept across Nepal’s Annapurna region, the Nepal government has promised to introduce new rules to ensure the safety of trekkers.
This will include improved weather forecasts and delivery of that information to remote trekking areas, plus better monitoring of those that traipse the nation’s popular trekking routes. Trekkers will be required to register at check posts when entering and exiting the region. Foreign trekkers had previously been required to buy permits and register on entering trekking areas, but it was not a requirement to check out.
The Annapurna circuit where the recent tragedy occurred has long been the domain of backpackers, as opposed to climbers, many who complete the three week trek without a guide. This will also change now with Tourism department official Tulasi Guatam saying trekkers will be required to take a registered local guide or porter and rent a GPS tracking unit so authorities can trace them in case of emergency. This would also help control illegal operations in the business.
The issue of being or not being guided was touched upon in more detail in this post for Travel Wire Asia in June 2013, however Intrepid Travel is one tour group that has recently demonstrated the importance of having a guide. They had a group in the vicinity of the Thorung Pass on the Annapurna Circuit and when they saw the approaching hostile weather they were able to warn their guide who diverted the trekking party away from the area. All are safe as a result.
While I have sometimes trekked solo in Nepal (always with a guide on more difficult or unknown terrain), the increased monitoring of trekkers may also help to prevent tragedies such as in the remote Langtang region near the Chinese border where a series of solo female trekkers have been attacked, threatened with rape, gone missing and even found decapitated in recent years.
The recent trekking disaster comes just months after an avalanche on Mount Everest in April that killed 16 guides and forced a shutdown of the world’s highest peak. The April tragedy was the deadliest day on Mount Everest since the much written about events of 10-11 May 1996 when eight climbers died when they were caught in a blizzard.
Reports emerged after the 1996 disaster of congestion due to the number of climbers, delays in securing ropes that caused bottlenecks at the Hillary Step delaying the ascent of many climbers, the competitive nature of teams to summit, and the presence of commercial guides who allowed unqualified climbers to attempt to summit.
The willingness of the Nepalese government to extend expensive permits to so many teams was also touched on in a book by Jamling Norgay, the son of the sherpa Tenzing Norgay who summited Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953. Jamling was climbing leader of the 1996 Everest IMAX expedition when the tragedy struck.
In his book Touching my father’s soul: A sherpa’s journey to the top of Everest Jamling also noted the disparity in salaries between the local and international guides and the expectations and risks expected of Sherpas, many who are expected to carry heavy loads and establish ropes for clients in the most dangerous sections of the mountain.
The tragedy this year brought many of these issues to a head again with the government promising to do what they could to provide compensation, education and welfare to Sherpa families. However despite concerns of the mounting rubbish on Everest, congestion and unqualified climbers the Nepalese government announced in February 2014 that there would be a cut to the cost of climbing permits from US $ 25,000 to $ 11,000 starting in 2015 to encourage more mountaineers to come to Everest.
While the issues surrounding the climbing of higher peaks are somewhat different to the average Nepal trekking route such as Annapurna, there is clear evidence that changes have to be made before more lives are lost. Let’s hope these recent changes will aid in this end.