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Will this new rule actually prevent more viral photos of Everest?

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The 2021 season for climbing Everest will start soon after a break last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By the end of March, Everest Base Camp in Nepal will again be buzzing with activity as expeditions settle on Khumbu Glacier, where they will spend several weeks making acclimatization rides up and down the mountain before their final peak pushes. in May. As usual, no one is allowed on the south side of the mountain without permission from the Nepalese government, but this year the government said several additional rules, including one particularly disconcerting: people cannot take or share photographs of other climbers on the mountain without his permission.

Mira Acharya, mountaineering director of the Nepal Department of Tourism, he told al Kathmandu Post, “Each climber can take, share and make pictures and videos of their own group or of themselves, but will have to face the action if they take, make and share photos of other climbers without the consent of the department”. Acharya also made it clear that it is always It was against the law for Everest climbers to share photos of other Everest climbers without government consent, but the Department of Tourism intends to crack down on the practice this year.

It is unclear what kind of punishment or fine the government will impose on people who take photos without permission. It is even less clear how the government intends to enforce the rule, given how easy it is for anyone with a mobile phone and an Internet connection to take and share photos discreetly and instantly. But the rationale behind it is easy to guess: Nepal allegedly wants to avoid another news cycle like the one triggered by Nirmal Purja’s viral photo of a line of climbers on Everest’s summit ridge in 2019. replied to Outsiderequest for comment on the photo ban.)

The new rule is about “control,” says Greg Vernovage, an IMG guide who has led Everest expeditions for more than ten years. “I would say Nepal wants control over as much of the press as possible. I’ve been asked many times about that now famous South Summit image: people asked, “Greg, is this true?” And you know, the pictures don’t lie. And yes, it was true. “

That photo bounced around the world within days, sparking a controversy that was covered in all major media, including The New York Times, who published four different stories with the image, as well as an editorial asking Nepal to intervene to limit traffic on the mountain. A consensus quickly emerged in the Western media: Everest had simply become too crowded, with too many inexperienced guides accompanied by too many inexperienced customers, and the fault was partly the lack of oversight by the Nepalese authorities.

“They need to reevaluate what is important, not just for the country, but all the expeditions they are paying to be on the mountain.”

After the 2019 season, also marked by at least 11 deaths, Nepal announced new regulations for Everest: guide companies would only receive permits if they had a minimum of three years of experience organizing climbing expeditions in high altitude, and people had to prove it had climbed at least one peak more than 21,000 feet earlier. “Although they are a step in the right direction, the two main rules can be easily circumvented and lack teeth”, Alan Arnette wrote in Outside when they were announced.

Many of Nepal’s Everest regulations could be described in the same way. (Everest can also be climbed in China, where laws and operating standards are different.) A long-standing event requires expeditions to remove all their trash from the mountain or face fines, but “this has never been enforced.” says Arnette, who has climbed the Nepalese side of Everest four times and keeps in touch with a large network of guides on the mountain every spring. (Arnette regularly collaborates with Outsideis the coverage of Everest.) The main rules that we are applied annually surround permits and paperwork that guide companies must submit and pay for in Kathmandu, including a permit of $ 11,000 per person for climbing Everest itself (this is for international climbers only; Nepalese mountaineers pay $ 700 each).

This year in Kathmandu, the Department of Tourism will presumably also review documents attesting to the post-2019 rules detailing the amount of experience guide companies and climbers need to be on the mountain. As there have been no climbs on the south side of Everest in 2020 due to the coronavirus, this will be the first season that those regulations will be in effect. “I definitely hope that this year, and every year in the future, people are ready to climb the mountain,” says Vernovage. “In terms of the rule with the 6,500-meter summit previously climbed, there was talk of instilling that rule for years. It will have to be determined whether they will enforce it. ”

And when it comes to the new restriction on photographs, Vernovage believes that “if they have time to enforce that rule, they need to reevaluate what is important, not just for the country but all expeditions that pay to be on the mountain. “

“I use photos as safety tools,” he adds, noting that his team decided the routes up the Lhotse face and through Khumbu Icefall based on the images of those areas and that often those photos have climbers.

Additionally, Vernovage points out that in order for anyone to receive an official government certificate claiming to have climbed Everest – a practice that has only been in place for the past decade – they must show the Department of Tourism a photo of themselves at the summit. . But hardly anyone gets that summit moment on their own: “I could send you at least 20-30 photos of people who have climbed Everest with IMG, and there seem to be other people they don’t know in the background,” says Vernovage.

Nepal requires new arrivals complete a one-week quarantine and submit evidence of a negative COVID-19 test, but it doesn’t limit the number of permits for Everest it grants this year due to the pandemic. However, several shipping companies have independently decided to give up Everest this season rather than bear the risks associated with the coronavirus. This means it might be slightly easier to avoid the crowds at the top. However, the bottlenecks in the Khumbu Icefall and the different teams clustering in the higher fields on the mountain remain an inevitability, and it seems unlikely that images of those scenes will be shared publicly.

Main photo: possible project / Facebook

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