From: Gopal Sharma, Reuters
Published August 22, 2007 03:35 PM

Maoist Woes Push Nepal To Cut Everest Climbing Fees

KATHMANDU - Nepal will slash climbing fees for Mount Everest in the off-season to lure mountaineers to the world's tallest peak and boost tourism hit by years of a Maoist conflict, a senior minister said on Wednesday.


Dozens of mountaineering teams, each paying at least $70,000, go to the 8,850-metre (29,035-feet) Everest summit during the main climbing season that runs from March to May.


But the giant mountain remains virtually deserted in the autumn and winter.


"We want to give incentives to off-season climbers to go to Mount Everest," Tourism Minister Prithvi Subba Gurung told Reuters in an interview.


"We are working on proposals to give a 50 percent royalty cut in the autumn and 75 percent during the winter climbing seasons."


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The autumn climbing season runs from September to November and the winter season from December to January.


At least 520 climbers reached the summit of Mount Everest from Nepal and Tibet in this year's main climbing season, the highest number since the mountain was first scaled by New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa in 1953.


Gurung said the royalty for the popular main climbing season would remain unchanged.


But experts said most mountaineers would still favor the spring season because of warmer weather and more daylight.


"In autumn you have a shorter period of possible good weather between the end of the monsoon rains (and) snowfall and the onset of very fierce jet stream winds on Mount Everest," said Elizabeth Hawley, a mountaineering historian.


"Almost nobody comes to Everest in winter because it is extremely cold and the daylight hours are much shorter."


The daytime temperature on top of Mount Everest even in the spring season can fall to between -25 and -30 degrees Celsius while it dips to as low as -50 degrees in winter, she said.


Climbers from a U.S. and Canadian team scaled Everest peak last autumn, but the last successful winter climb from the Nepali side was carried out by a Japanese team in 1993.


No team has attempted a winter bid since 1999 when a U.S. expedition failed, Hawley said.


The president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association said financial incentives should also be given for other mountains.


"The government should also open hundreds of small mountain peaks on its border with Tibet to foreign climbers," Ang Tshering Sherpa added.


Nepal, home to eight of the world's 14 highest mountains, has more than 2,000 Himalayan peaks -- 326 of them open to foreign climbers.


Tourism accounts for about 4 percent of the impoverished nation's GDP. But the number of visitors fell to about 280,000 last year, down from nearly half a million in 1999, due to a Maoist conflict that killed more than 13,000 people.


The Maoists ended their decade-long conflict last year, raising hopes more visitors would return.


Gurung said the government wanted to attract 600,000 visitors in the current fiscal year, which ends in mid-July 2008.


But analysts said a series of general strikes and transport shutdowns sponsored by former rebels and other groups, as well as an ethnic conflict in the country's fertile southern plains continued to plague tourism.


According to the Nepal Tourism Board, tourist arrivals in the first seven months of 2007 stood at 193,211, up 35.6 percent from the same period a year ago.


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