End of the Everest en suite as tourists face ban on glamping

Luxury camping sites on Everest may soon become a thing of the past
Luxury camping sites on Everest may soon become a thing of the past

The days may be numbered for the giant dome tents, massage parlours, yoga areas and en suite lavatories at Everest Base Camp as Nepalese authorities vow to crack down on the sprawling luxury setups that are clogging up the site.

Wealthy climbers have been able to enjoy increasingly lavish facilities at Base Camp, paying tens of thousands of pounds for expeditions that promise large tents equipped with comfortable beds, armchairs and even flat-screen televisions. Mountaineering companies have competed to offer their well-heeled clients ever more luxurious facilities.

It is a far cry from when Everest was first climbed by Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953, with the wiry New Zealander observing that “when you’re climbing at high altitudes, life can get pretty miserable”.

Nepalese officials say the glamping has got out of hand and have drawn up new rules that will crack down on the more luxurious end of the mountaineering market. They are particularly focusing on the size of tents that are permitted.

The regulations have been drawn up by local people from the Khumbu Pasang Lhamu municipality, which has jurisdiction over Everest Base Camp and other camps in the region.

They want to limit the size of tents that are permitted, in particular the huge communal dining tents and toilets attached to individual tents.

The number of tents that expedition companies can erect will also be reduced to try to shrink the size of Base Camp, a huge settlement that sprawls across rock, snow and ice.

A luxury tent offered by Climbing the Seven Summits offers home comforts on Everest
A luxury tent offered by Climbing the Seven Summits offers home comforts on Everest

Dawa Steven, a British-educated sherpa, environmental activist and expedition leader, told the adventure website ExplorersWeb: “I share the locals’ concern for the future of the Everest region. [They] are trying to rein in the extravagance at Base Camp.”

Locals also want to curb the use of helicopters to fly in supplies and climbers, not just to Base Camp but to Camps 2 and 3, which lead up to the 29,032ft (8,848m) high summit of Everest.

Under the new rules, helicopters will only be allowed for rescues of stricken climbers and the emergency evacuation of those suffering from altitude sickness or injury.

Officials hope that by restricting helicopter flights, expeditions will have to revert to the old method of humping supplies up into the mountains: yaks.

“The idea is to spread economic benefits to the local yak herders and porters,” said Mr Steven, who is also secretary of the Expedition Operators Association.

“The practice of yak herding is slowly dying out because of a lack of incentives. It also creates other problems, like having less yak dung for cooking and heating.”

Above the tree line in the Himalayas, yak dung is the main source of fuel for villagers.

However, some critics fear the new rules may bring problems of their own.

One major stumbling block is that many climbers will already have paid for their expeditions, with the Everest climbing season about to begin, and that they may be disappointed to find that the level of luxury they had been looking forward to has been significantly downgraded.

Locals in Nepal are concerned that these camps are harming the landscape
Locals in Nepal are concerned that these camps are harming the landscape

Everest has also struggled with a rubbish problem for years, with climbing expeditions leaving behind tents, oxygen canisters, food containers and other equipment.

A local environmental NGO, the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee, said that during the climbing season last year, expeditions produced 75 tonnes of waste, including more than 20,000kg of human excrement.

Last month, Nepalese authorities decreed that all climbers must carry down their own waste from Everest with the use of poo bags.

Thousands of the bags will be available to buy at Base Camp and will be checked upon their return, officials said, as they try to tackle the unsightly and unhygienic problem of climbers relieving themselves in the open. The bags contain chemicals that solidify human waste and render it largely odourless.

These are known as Wag bags, an acronym for Waste Alleviation and Gelling. The authorities want to ensure that the bodies of mountaineers who die on the ascent or descent of Everest are also properly disposed of. Expedition companies will be responsible for retrieving the bodies of climbers, guides, porters and sherpas.

The Nepalese army is preparing to launch an operation to recover dead bodies from Mount Everest and nearby Nuptse, a 25,790ft (7,861m) peak adjacent to Everest.

Rakesh Gurung, the director of Nepal’s tourism department, said: “The Nepali army, in collaboration with local authorities, is making preparations for the next mountain cleanup campaign and it is expected that at least five dead bodies will be retrieved from Everest and Nuptse.”