24 May 2016

Tenzing calls for Everest restrictions

11:11 am on 24 May 2016

Nepal mountaineering associations should lobby the government to put greater safety measures in place on Everest, Norbu Tenzing says.

Norbu Tenzing Norgay

Norbu Tenzing Norgay Photo: AFP

Mr Tenzing, the son of Sir Edmund Hillary's climbing partner and the vice-president of the American Himalayan Foundation, told Nine to Noon organisations like the Nepal Mountaineering Association should be taking the initiative for making changes.

He said they were the ones responsible for the sherpas' lives and they had the ear of the government.

"Some things obviously you can't control, but I think if the government of Nepal is going to [try] - take the huge step of controlling the number of people who went up there, qualify the climbers, decrease the kind of risk to the sherpas, increase the amount of insurance for the families after one of them dies on Everest.

"Small changes can go a long way in making the mountain a lot safer and secure for future generations.

His comments come after four deaths on the mountain within as many days - sherpa Phurba Sherpa, Dutch mountaineer Eric Arnold, Australian academic Maria Strydom and Subash Paul of India.

There had been reports of bottlenecks of people on the mountain, in poor weather, with inexperienced climbers holding others up.

Two other Indian climbers are also feared dead, and Ms Strydom's husband is in intensive care with congestive heart failure, as the first climbing season for two years draws to a close.

Deadly avalanches and earthquakes have prevented expeditions for the last two seasons.

Nepal Mountaineering Association president Ang Tshering had previously said the deaths were a man-made disaster.

Sherpas on Mount Everest

Sherpas on Mount Everest Photo: AFP

Mr Tenzing agreed part of the risk was to do with the inexperience of the climbers, and partly to do with the inexperience of sherpas.

A magnitude 7.4 earthquake in May last year killed more than 6000 people in Nepal and injured thousands more.

Mr Tenzing said the devastation in the country put business pressures on the sherpas.

"Everest is an industry, and Everest is big business," he said.

"Part of the sherpa community will always rely on the mountain. But the business of undercutting - sherpas want a bigger piece of the Everest pie."

He said some expedition managers were charging as little as a quarter the price of some of the western-based climbing companies, and "there's obviously different levels of service".

"But the inexperienced sherpa operators in some instances don't have the kind of staff that other companies would have and don't necessarily qualify the climbers that they take with them to the top and are risking the lives of others."

Mount Everest. Photo taken in November 2015.

Mount Everest. Photo taken in November 2015. Photo: AFP

"People often forget how dangerous the mountain, Everest, is and when you have deadly combination of some 400 people trying to make it to the top, some experienced some not so experienced, with the weather being a factor."

Experienced climber Billi Bierling, who has climbed five 8000m peaks, told Morning Report today climbers had to take responsibility for the risks they took.

"Can we always attribute it to our operator, can we shift all the responsibility to the operator - I think we have to take some responsibility as well.

"I have heard some stories of people who are diabetic for example and they don't tell their operator because they want to climb Everest."

It was a dangerous business and Ms Bierling said she did not think there had been a year on the mountain when there was not a death.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs