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Mount Everest: New health rules for climber safety

Mountain peak Mount Everest. Highest mountain in the world. National Park, Nepal.
Mount Everest.

“I saw the ridge ahead dropped away to the north and above me on the right was a rounded snow dome. A few more whacks with my ice-axe and Tenzing and I stood on top of Everest,” Edmund Hillary, a British mountaineer, recalled of his efforts which resulted in him and Tenzing Norgay becoming the first people to officially summit Mount Everest.

Approximately 800 people attempt that same feat every year and more than 4,000 have succeeded. 223 climbed Mount Everest on May 22nd this year alone. However, while summiting Mount Everest is a life dream for many, it is also deadly as this year reminded us. 2019 saw the deaths of at least eleven climbers, including four Indians – among the deadliest climbing seasons in history. In total, almost 300 people have died attempting to climb Mount Everest. 

Many factors were pinpointed as the reason behind the deaths during this year’s climbing season, in particular inexperience and overcrowding in the so-called “death zone” – an area of the trek 26,000 feat above sea level where an oxygen deficiency imperils human health. In recent days, pre-existing health issues have also been flagged and new rules to prevent such deaths have been drafted to avert similar tragedies in future. 

Hitherto, summiting Mount Everest was off-limits only to those below the age of sixteen, those with a criminal history, and those with serious health issues. The new rules will mandate that prospective climbers submit proof of insurance and their full medical history in advance of attempting the summit in order to receive a permit to climb the mountain which is the tallest in the world, its elevation standing at 29,035 feet. The insurance would partially cover the cost of a body retrieval in the event of a climber dying, which can be a costly exercise – ranging from US$20,000 to US$200,000, depending on whether or not the fatality has occurred in the “death zone”. 

The new rules are not expected to affect the Visit Nepal campaign, which aspires to bring two million tourists to the country next year. However, they will likely be welcomed as a necessity in preventing deaths. “As most deaths occurred due to fitness and health issues, we have come up with these strict measures,” commented Mira Acharya, director in the section of mountaineering, hotel, and monitoring of the Government of Nepal’s Ministry of Culture, Tourism, and Civil Aviation. “The draft of the new rules was submitted to the Tourism Ministry last week.” The rules will be submitted to the Nepalese Cabinet for ratification. 

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