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Human + Nature

© Giles Price

On the edge of the Khumbu Glacier and its surrounding moraine, is Everest Base Camp. Situated at an altitude of 5364m and over 1.5km long, this temporary settlement, which exists only from April until early June, is growing every year. Tourism, including trekking and mountaineering, brought in around $520m during 2014 and is the main income for many rural Nepalese people. The Nepalese government generates $2.7m from Everest climbing permits per year, with each pass costing $11,000. Over the last few years the number of climbing companies offering their services has risen, with the biggest change being Nepalese firms joining the competition. This has meant the cost of climbing has fallen as low as $30,000 (US) with a Nepalese company and between $45,000 - $85,000 with a Western organisation.  A Sherpa guiding climbers to the summit – which has one of the highest fatality rates of any job - can earn $7000+ per season, compared to the average Nepalese annual income of around $700. Naturally tensions have occurred between the Sherpa community, who, despite taking all of the risks, have received little government welfare, and the authorities. Following the 2014 avalanche, the government raised its compensation for a death by 50% to $15,000, established a welfare trust for bereaved families and agreed to pay for the victim’s children’s education. Discussions are underway as to how to control the numbers going forward. One suggestion is to ban those under 18 and over 75, those with disabilities, while only experienced climbers who have already scaled medium-sized Himalayan peaks will be issued with permits for Everest. At the end of the day its still the Sherpas who do the work and take the risk, one wonders whether the number of companies providing mountaineering assistance and individuals wanting to scale the peak, will start to change, as discussions about the environmental, economic, social and political impact continue.

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