Where have all the mountaineers gone?

Mt Everest sees a dramatic drop in expeditions this spring season, no one seems to know why


Till 4 April, there were only 7 expeditions with 86 mountaineers who have got permits to climb Mt Everest this spring climbing season, much lower than the 47 expeditions and nearly 478 foreign alpinists in spring 2023.

It is not clear why the Department of Tourism starts processing applications for Everest climbs only in March when expeditions prepare for years before they plan to climb the world’s highest mountain. It also seems insensitive to include total royalties collected in its tables which suggests that it is only interested in cash and not mountaineering.  

The Department has been updating its list of expeditions almost every other day this week, and the latest one shows that besides the seven expeditions on Everest, there are three on Ama Dablam, and another three on Annapurna I. Smaller peaks like Himlung (7,126m), Jugal III (6,184m), Putha Hiunchuli (7,246m), and Khangri Shar (6,811m) have one permit each. 

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“It is too early to speculate if there is a drop in numbers,” says Dawa Steven Sherpa of Asian Trekking. “Many expeditions sign up at the last moment, anyway.”

Surprisingly, Manaslu (8,163m) which is usually the most popular mountain after Everest does not have a single expedition in the Department’s list. In 2023, there were 23 expeditions with 266 foreign climbers on Manaslu.

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Where have all the mountaineers gone? Nt #1206

The drastic drop this year also translates to a big decrease in the total number of climbers, and the amount of royalty the government collects from climbing fees. This spring's 19 expeditions total only 171 climbers, compared to last year's 61 expeditions bringing 512 foreign climbers.

Despite this, the average number of members per expedition this year (9.00) to last year (8.14) is comparable. While the difference in number of expeditions and peaks is stark, mountaineering experts think there is no need for premature fretting. 

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Everest summiteer Alan Arnette, who has covered Himalayan climbing for 20 years, agrees that the numbers could pick up: “There is a trend for teams to arrive later and later for Everest. Some start with Annapurna, others just get their permits later. It will pick up.”

Nepali mountaineering companies have become more efficient. Ten years ago, an Everest expedition used to be eight weeks long. Now, it takes three weeks and many expeditions climb Annapurna, Dhaulagiri or Cho Oyu early before moving on to Everest, trying to  climb two eight-thousanders in one season.

March-May is when most mountaineers try to climb Everest because of gentler winds and higher temperatures on the slopes. Sometimes weather windows are open in May for only a few days, leading to traffic jams near the summit.

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Vishad Onta