Nepal to allow climbers to scale five more peaks

KATHMANDU (AFP) - Nepal will open five more peaks above 8,000 metres for mountaineers to scale when the autumn climbing season begins, a tourism official said on Tuesday, a move largely welcomed by local climbers.

The Himalayan nation currently allows climbers to scale eight mountains above 8,000 metres, including the world's tallest peak, Mount Everest.

Nepal plans to open three peaks in the Kanchenjunga region and two from the Everest region.

Lhotse Middle, Lhotse Shar, Kanchenjunga South, Kanchenjunga Central and Kanchenjunga West - all measuring above 8,400 metres - will soon be open for expeditions, pending approval from the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA).

Mr Purna Chandra Bhattarai, a senior official at the tourism ministry, said the Switzerland-based organisation, which represents climbers and mountaineers from around the world, would likely make a decision at its annual meeting in early October.

"Of course, it will increase the revenue. But we would also like to encourage people to explore and climb these other mountains, apart from the world's eight highest peaks," he told AFP.

Mountaineering expeditions are an important source of revenue for the impoverished nation.

Among professional climbers, successfully conquering all the so-called "8,000ers" is regarded as one of the hardest and most dangerous challenges a mountaineer can take on.

Only a handful of the world's climbers have successfully scaled the 14 independent peaks that measure more than 8,000 metres, all of which lie in the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges.

Lhotse Middle and Lhotse Shar are both sub-peaks of Lhotse, the fourth highest mountain in the world, while Kangchenjunga South, Central and West are sub-peaks of Kangchenjunga, the world's third highest.

Mr Pasang Sherpa, general secretary of Nepal National Mountain Guide Association, expressed some reservations about the move to open the new summits up to climbers.

He said that the decision would put pressure on mountaineers vying to set records on them.

"Instead of 14 mountains above 8,000 metres, now they have to scale 19 peaks," he said. "The increase in human activities on the mountain will impact the environment.''

At the same time, he added, "this will contribute to local economy as more climbers will come. Regions like Kanchenjunga will flourish with new hotels. It will also generate employment."

Mr Bhattarai said earlier this month that Nepal plans to keep a closer eye on expeditions to Mount Everest to ensure that climbers keep the famed peak clean.

Experts have warned that overcrowding on the mountain is clogging up movement and causing dangerous delays in ascents.

Ang Tshering Sherpa, former president of Nepal Mountaineering Association, said the move should "ease the pressure on Everest where we see a lot of climbers every season".

"This will definitely diversify mountaineering. It will increase the expeditions to Kanchenjunga," he said.

On May 29, Nepal marked the 60th anniversary of the first scaling of Everest, honouring the family members of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the pioneering climbers.

The tourism ministry had said during the 60th anniversary celebrations that it would announce new peaks for climbing.

The tourism ministry collected 35 million rupees (S$705,250) in mountaineering revenues during the most recent spring season, Mr Bhattarai said.

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