Mount Everest deaths: Why low-cost expeditions may be to blame

The rise of low-cost mountain expedition operators is at least partially to blame for Mount Everest’s deadliest climbing season in recent memory, according to a noted climbing expert.

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Mount Everest expeditions have traditionally carried a hefty price tag. Trips range anywhere from about $30,000 for locally-based operators to well over $100,000 for tours with amenities such as private guides and personal photographers, according to various estimates. In most cases, foreign climbers also have to cover the costs of climbing equipment, personal injury and helicopter insurance, as well as a $11,000 permit fee that goes the Nepalese government.

At least 11 people have died while attempting to scale the world’s tallest summit, marking the mountain’s deadliest climbing season since 2015. While experts attribute the trend to several factors, including weather conditions, historically low prices from operators with inexperienced or unqualified guides are luring climbers into a dangerous situation, according to Alan Arnette, a Colorado-based summit coach and blogger who scaled Everest in 2011.

“With operators now offering climbs at $30,000 compared to the ‘old-school’ price of $45,000 to $65,000, people who simply can’t afford to gain the much-needed mountaineering and altitude experience on lesser peaks, believing it’s not needed, jump on the low-cost Everest train,” Arnette said in an email to FOX Business and other news outlets.

This year’s deaths, most of which have been linked to altitude sickness, occurred as Nepal’s government issued a record 381 permits to climbers. Veterans have argued that inexperienced climbers are causing traffic jams on the mountain’s narrow trails, putting themselves and others at risk.

Nepal, which earns roughly $300 million each year from climbing expeditions, places few limits on which applicants can receive permits. Climbers simply need to cover the $11,000 fee and provide proof from a doctor that they are medically fit. According to Arnette, cheaper operators often hire guides who lack the experience needed to respond during an emergency.

“The solution lies in governments having strict qualification on who can guide and climb and not simply accepting their money without question. You have to qualify for the Boston Marathon, but not to climb the world’s highest peak,” Arnette said.

Aside from insurance coverage, high-end operators often require clients to have demonstrated climbing experience.

For example, International Mountain Guides warns applicants that they must be “in excellent physical condition, with good technical skills and previous altitude experience” to attempt a climb. Asian Trekking, a local operator, requires at least six months of preparation to ensure climbers are fit enough to contend with low oxygen levels.

"The combination of untrained sherpas and inexperienced climbers is a lethal cocktail but luckily there are better-equipped companies to rally around in case of accidents," Asian Trekking managing director Dawa Steven Sherpa told AFP in 2016.

As deaths mount, Nepalese officials signaled this week that they could alter laws to place more restrictions on which climbers and operators can attempt the trek.

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“It’s time to review all the old laws,” Nepalese parliament member Yagya Raj Sunuwar said, according to the New York Times.