American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Resolution of Guiding Violation

  • Notes
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1996

Resolution of Guiding Violation. In October 1993, a British adventure travel company, Himalayan Kingdoms, was fined $100,000 by the Nepalese government because too many of its expedition members had gone to the summit of Everest. Everest expeditions are normally permitted to have no more than seven foreign members, but the commercial, guided Himalayan Kingdoms expedition had a total of 14 foreign clients and guides. The leader, Stephen Bell, thought he had found a way to make it possible to take all 14 members to Everest by dividing them into two teams with one holding a permit for the standard South Col/Southeast Ridge route up Everest, and the other allowed to scale Lhotse, the 8516-meter peak adjacent to Everest. He said he understood from middle-level officials in the tourism ministry, which regulates mountaineering in Nepal, that it would be all right for those on the Lhotse membership list to go to the summit of Everest provided he paid an extra fee for each such summitter afterward. Four of his Lhotse team members, and five on the Everest permit including Bell himself, did reach Everest's summit on October 7 and 9.

The tourism officials denied that they had agreed to let anyone from Bell's Lhotse membership list go to Everest's summit, and on November 7, 1993, a public announcement from the ministry stated that since four climbers had not confined themselves to their permitted peak, Lhotse, but had "climbed Everest without permission," they had thereby violated the law governing mountaineering, and "any expedition who does such an act is subject to punishment." The punishment awarded to the Himalayan Kingdoms expedition was a fine of $100,000, which was calculated by doubling the basic royalty fee, as per the rules.

Himalayan Kingdoms then appealed the severity of this fine on the grounds of what Bell described as an "enormous misunderstanding" between himself and the officials that August, although he continued to claim that he had had their agreement; he further pointed out that at no time had his team attempted to hide the truth from the ministry. He said he was prepared to pay $10,000 for each of the four summitters from the Lhotse list, or even $50,000 for another Everest fee, but he pleaded that the sum of $100,000 "will have disastrous consequences" for the finances of Himalayan Kingdoms. His appeal was supported by the British embassy here, who spoke of "mitigating circumstances" that should be taken into account.

The ministry insisted for about a year that the full $100,000 had to be paid, and officials even talked of taking further action if it were not. No official announcement has been issued, but apparently in October, 1994, a few weeks before a parliamentary election (which, as it turned out, was to bring about the defeat of the government then in power), the cabinet suddenly decided to waive the $50,000 penalty and demand payment only of the $50,000 normal royalty. A tourism ministry mountaineering official says the cabinet gave no explanation for this decision, and he has no idea what lay behind it, but he notes that there had been discussions "at a high level" — presumably meaning between the British ambassador and the tourism minister, and perhaps the prime minister, of that time. There has been some suggestion that the election campaign was somehow involved, but the official says he has not heard of any such connection. In any case, he says payment of the $50,000 royalty fee was received from Himalayan Kingdoms on November 22.

Elizabeth Hawley

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