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Record breaking season on Everest

Guy Cotter at the top of the Khumbu icefall. Photo: Kah Shin Leow

Budget Everest operators are cashing in on the world’s highest climb, but at a huge risk. By Kathy Ombler

Good weather contributed to a record breaking season on Everest this year, with more than 700 climbers summiting.

However Adventure Consultants’ boss, Guy Cotter, says this doesn’t mean the mountain was over-crowded.

“The pictures you see of crowding are from bad weather years, when all of a sudden the weather comes right and you’ve got just a couple of clear days and everybody is summiting at once. This year we had 11 good weather days in a row so that spread people out. To put it in perspective, as many people summited Everest this year as summit Mt Blanc in one day.”

Cotter also says much publicised rubbish problems on Everest have been sorted, although the human waste issue above Base Camp remains a challenge. The main issue on the mountain now, he says, is the growing number of local low-end operators.

“They’re seeing what we’re doing and trying to cut out the ‘middleman’, the guides and companies. But the only way they’re getting clients is by being cheaper. Many of them don’t even do budgets, they just say we’ll be a thousand dollars cheaper, then they don’t actually have any money to do things like carry rubbish off the mountain like the rest of us do.

“This year, some local companies cut their logos off their tents and left the tents behind. There are some very good local companies but they are being undercut by these low-end operators.

“What it is also doing is allowing access to people we wouldn’t accept on our expeditions; who don’t have the training or the background to be on Everest, then they don’t have support on the mountain because they are with people who are underfunded and in many cases not highly-skilled, especially with dealing with foreigners.

“We’re not missing out because clients at our end of the market are not interested in what those people are offering,” he adds.

In May, Cotter met with Nepal’s Tourism Minister to discuss the Everest situation. “It would be good to see it managed better but as foreigners, we can’t just tell them what to do. They are keen to address these issues, however, they also want to support local people.

“What’s important to me is the reputation of Everest. If Everest looks like a mess then people get that perception about mountaineering in general and that upsets me.”

Meanwhile, in May, Cotter and a client came tantalisingly close to becoming the first to achieve the “Everest Triple Crown’ in just one season; climbing Everest (Cotter’s fifth summit) and Lhoste (his second), then to within 200m of the Nuptse summit. Cotter credits his Sherpa support team for their achievement. Other New Zealanders summiting Everest this year included Mike Read, Penny Webster and Mike Davies, all climbing with Adventure Consultants guide Lydia Brady (her fifth summit), and Matt Kitchin (from the Tibet side).