In spite of the raging COVID-19 pandemic in Nepal, mountaineering activities, especially expeditions to Sagarmatha, have resumed in spring this year. Over 170 climbers made it to the summit of Sagarmatha on Sunday (May 24) alone, according to the Department of Tourism (DoT). They were successful in reaching the summit as the weather was favourable. Some 100 more aspirants are now in the process of making their push to the summit. Earlier in the second week of this month, as many as 150 climbers had scaled the peak. Spring (March-May) is the peak season for mountaineering in the country. The world's tallest mountain (8,848.86m) has continued to be a centre of attraction among climbers from across the globe ever since legendary mountaineers Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Sir Edmund Hillary conquered it on May 29, 1953.
Even in the time of the pandemic, the DoT issued permits to 408 climbers from around the world for this season. What is encouraging is that the permits issued this year are more than that of 2019. Only 381 permits were issued to attempt Sagarmatha, also popularly known as Mount Everest, in 2019. Because of the global public health crisis, there were no mountaineering expeditions to Sagarmatha last year. The country had remained closed to foreigners throughout the year. However, the government had issued a special permit to a Bahraini team led by Prince Mohamed Hamad Al Khalifa for climbing Mt. Lobuche and Mt. Manaslu in autumn last year. The team had also been successful in its mission. Khalifa's team had attempted these two peaks as a trial to conquer Sagarmatha this year. The Bahraini expedition also climbed Sagarmatha two weeks ago.
Fatalities are often reported in the mountain region during climbing seasons. On average, around five climbers lose their lives every year on Sagarmatha alone. A couple of days ago, two climbers from the United States and Switzerland died on the mountain, the first fatalities of this season. In the past, Nepal's tourism authorities would often be critised for not dealing with the problem of overcrowding on Sagarmatha. However, the DoT has now introduced a rule to avoid the problem of crowding on the mountain. As per the new system, only a certain number of climbers can summit the peak per window of favourable weather. This rule is expected to be helpful for slashing the number of mountaineering fatalities. Using binoculars, the liaison officers deployed by the DoT monitor whether the system is strictly followed or not from Sagarmatha base camp. This is definitely a welcome initiative.
Needless to say, Nepal is home to eight of the world's 14 mountains above 8,000 metres as well as hundreds of other mountains. The country generates a good revenue from mountaineering annually. This sector also creates jobs for many mountain guides and other people involved in expeditions. Although the jobs created by the mountaineering sector are seasonal, it directly supports the rural economy. The successful operation of expeditions to Sagarmatha and some other mountains during this season has shown that this sector can run smoothly even in an adverse situation like this. The government can keep this sector open but with all the precautions needed in the time of pandemic.