Nepal moves to lease its mountains.
Faux Tyrolean Villages, bars, restaurants, real estate, the hot tub alone have all transformed what skiing is across much of the United States and abroad. Ever since the first lease was signed and DIY adventurers dragged retrofitted engines and rope tows up unscathed slopes, skiing has grown to the upper echelon of sport and society. Skiing caters to the rich. With lofty equipment prices to gain access to the sport and increased dependency on off-the-hill revenue, without our bastions of class mulling about Aspen and Park City, skiing would not be where it is today.
Mountaineering too has become a rich man’s game. Again, staggering equipment costs reserve mountaineering to either the ultra-dedicated or the ultra-rich. Add on permits, travel expenses and the swaths of time one needs off from work to accomplish large expeditions, it’s a privileged pastime which may lend itself perfectly to the ski resort model.
The Nepalese government announced today that it is considering leasing some of its 326 open peaks to ease traffic on its prized park peak, Mt. Everest. Everest itself has become a bit of a resort, where wealthy enthusiasts hire guides to provide transport, accommodations, meals, oxygen, even basic training, all inclusive. Like an expensive Sandals. Ladders litter the mountain bypassing technical cruxes and last year Nepal discussed installing a ladder on the Hilary Step to ease congestion in the Death Zone where bottlenecks are the biggest danger on summit days.
The measure, if passed, could be “a very good step” according to the Nepal Mountaineering Association, dealing with the overcrowding of Everest. But would greater publicizing and better marketing sway ambitious amateurs from booking an Everest trip in lieu of another? Cho Oyu (already a popular summit) doesn’t have the same ring around the board room as Everest. Or, under the agreement of a lease, would private companies work to develop infrastructure to lure climbers, not for the quality of climbing but the luxury of the experience? China already built a highway to attract more climbers to the North side, which even unfinished in 2007, enabled me and the group I was with to drive right up to Base Camp. It seems crazy now but after watching the transformation of skiing in the 20th century, the privatization of Himalayan mountains could easily mean martini’s and a massage after summit bids, 500 count sheets instead of a 500 fill bag and effortless Alpine starts under the glow of a resorts night climbing lights. It’s pleasing to see Nepal attempt to deal with the obvious state of Everest, including their latest ruling of obligatory trash removal, but this idea seems to have more economic implications than ecological.