Nepal pledges to improve climbing conditions, assure safety on Everest to bring back climbers



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KATHMANDU, Nepal — Nepal is improving its weather forecasting, stepping up security and promising swift rescues if needed during the upcoming climbing season on Everest in an attempt to recover from the worst mountaineering disaster on the world's highest peak last year.

Fees for individual climbers will also be cut to lure back climbers after last year's season was abandoned due to grief and safety concerns following an avalanche near base camp last April that killed 16 local guides.

For the three-month climbing season that begins in March, the government will ensure safer conditions for both international climbers and Nepalese guides and will set up a camp for officials at base camp, the chief of Nepal's Mountaineering Department Puspa Raj Katuwal said Monday.

"We are working on plans to improve the conditions on the mountain this year. We are setting up a full-time office tent at the base camp which will have our officials throughout the climbing season," Katuwal said.

That would allow the officials to quickly respond to any problem on the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) mountain. They would also provide security, settle disputes among climbers and monitor the activities of the hundreds of climbers and guides at the base camp.

The Nepalese government has been criticized for not having a presence at the base camp and doing too little despite earning millions in permit fees.

The national weather service will provide forecasts for Everest for the officials to release at the base camp. The officials will also monitor the amount of garbage taken by climbers down the mountain. Left-behind garbage has become a problem in recent years.

Katuwal said he was confident that climbers would return to Everest, especially because of the slashed permit fees, which will cost $11,000 per climber this year for permission to climb Everest, down from $25,000.

The moves come after one major expedition company announced that it was ceasing operations on Everest's southern side, which is in Nepal, and shifting to the northern face, in China.

Adrian Ballinger of California-based Alpenglow Expeditions said their decision was based on concerns and fear of the dangers on the treacherous Khumbu Icefall section of the climb, where the avalanche last year hit Sherpa guides who were hauling gear between camps.

"The risk has become truly too great," Ballinger said in a telephone interview.

He said there were too many people on the mountain without climbing experience and that Nepal should have regulations requiring climbers to have high-altitude experience before being issued a climbing permit.

The load carried by the porters and guides should also be drastically reduced.

"There is no need for dining tables or heaters at Camp 2," he said, adding that a highly funded and trained rescue team should be at the base camp to respond when needed.

More than 4,000 climbers have scaled Everest but hundreds have died attempting to climb it.

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