Widespread condemnation has greeted new rules that ban blind people and double amputees from climbing Everest.
The new rules, which were implemented at the end of December 2017, have been introduced by the Nepalese tourism ministry in a bid to cut down the number of deaths on the mountain. Solo climbers have also been banned, and all foreign climbers must now be accompanied by a mountain guide.
Disability rights groups across the world, including the National Federation of the Blind, the World Blind Union and the National Federation of the Disabled, Nepal say these new rules are discriminatory.
Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “While we recognise that this climb should not be undertaken by the unprepared or inexperienced, the ban on blind climbers is arbitrary. The first blind person to attempt this climb, Erik Weihenmayer, summited on May 25, 2001 in an expedition that we were proud to sponsor. This proves that blindness, by itself, does not prevent a climber from safely summiting Mount Everest.”
One veteran climber, Alan Arnette, said the ban on amputees and climbers with visual impairments was prejudiced. “If this is about protecting people from their own ambitions, then over half of the annual climbers should be banned each year as they lack the experience to safely climb Everest,” he wrote on his blog. “And where does this stop – people with asthma, diabetes, haemophiliacs or cancer?” Arnette said. “All of these have recently successfully summited Everest with no problems.”
More than 5,000 climbers have scaled Mount Everest since it was first climbed by New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953. But nearly 300 have died during the climb, with most of the deaths taking place since 1980.
In recent years, experienced climbers have raised concerns that due record number of aspiring mountaineers, Everest has become dangerously overcrowded. New companies with lower safety standards have rushed to fill the demand in the market.
British mountaineer Tim Mosedale told The Guardian: "Over the years there has been a huge dilution in the cumulative experience of staff while at the same time there has been a net increase in inexperienced or poor expedition providers."
However, former British Gurkha and aspiring Everest climber Hari Budha Magar, who lost both his legs when he was deployed in Afghanistan, is fighting the ban. "I agree that the government needs to bring rules to minimise risks, but such ban is not the answer," Magar said. Using specially designed crampons attached to shortened prosthetics, Magar has successfully summitted Nepal's Mera Peak as well as the highest peak in the Alps, Mont Blanc. He has been lobbying the Nepal government to have the ban overturned and is confident he will succeed, paving the way for him to attempt Everest in 2019.