Preface, An Open Letter to Managers of Peak Fees and Permits in the Greater Ranges

Publication Year: 2010.

An Open Letter to Managers of Peak Fees and Permits in the Greater Ranges.

Your high peaks are beautiful, as are the people who live in their valleys. They attract visitors from all over the world, which is a source of pride for those who live in mountain communities. However, many of the rules that apply to visitors are relics of a bygone era and are now stumbling blocks to climbing in the Greater Ranges. If you simplify your regulations, you’ll more easily and effectively protect the environment, support rural communities, and help mountaineers.

Our biggest concern involves the requirement to choose in advance a peak and even a route up that peak. This may be less of an issue for a big group going to a well-known summit, such as a commercial expedition. But for modern climbers—especially the exploratory and new-route climbers represented in the American Alpine Journal—there is a great need for flexibility in the field. We may have seen a photo of a beautiful peak that inspired us to fly halfway around the world to try to climb it. But on arrival we might discover that snow conditions are bad, access routes are dangerous, or the route is unsuited to our skills. Also, the fee structure should not discourage a modern expedition of two climbers operating in very lightweight style. A small group of friends climbing together is the future of climbing, even on the most difficult and remote mountains.

There is only so much that can be planned back home in Paris, Denver, or Tokyo. Rigid rules, high fees, inflexibility regarding changes of plans, all discourage visits by responsible climbers, and they can be counter-productive by encouraging rule breaking.

All parties would benefit, especially the rural communities that provide goods and services, if the permit process was modernized. Many good ideas have been floated, and they all point toward simplicity and flexibility. Here are key points for your consideration:

• A blanket fee and permit could apply to a valley or region, instead of to a specific peak (i.e. give climbers the same freedom as trekkers).

• Liaison officers, who generally have little to do on small expeditions, could be replaced by a system of “rangers,” who would follow good-practice environmental guidelines for protected-area management.

• Approved tour companies could fulfill most of the roles currently undertaken by liaison officers, and they could deal with permits on the spot or with minimum wait.

Over 100 years ago, the pioneers of Himalayan mountaineering were climbing in small teams. In the 1930’s Eric Shipton wrote of his longing to “…wander with a small, self-contained party through the labyrinth of unexplored valleys, forming plans to suit circumstances, climbing peaks when the opportunity occurred, following topographical clues and crossing passes into unknown country.”

Those heady days of exploration, when so much was open to enterprising travelers, may be over. But today, if you simplify your regulations, you will not only help mountaineers, you’ll also find that climbers will be easier to manage, the environment can be better protected, and happier visitors will bring more business to support rural communities.

John Harlin III


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