The Washington Post

Solo hikes banned for Nepal’s tallest peaks after a rise in disappeara­nces


Climbers with long-harbored ambitions of ascending Nepal’s tallest peaks alone may have to rethink their plans. The country has announced that, starting next month, solo hikes will be banned in all national parks, after many foreign nationals have disappeare­d over the years while navigating Nepal’s treacherou­s terrains.

Under the new policy, foreign nationals traveling alone or in groups, regardless of experience level, will have to hire a licensed guide and obtain a permit from a tour operator, local outlets reported. The rule will not apply to Nepali nationals.

“When you are traveling solo, in case of emergencie­s there is no one to help you,” Mani R. Lamichhane, director of the Nepal Tourism Board, told CNN. “It is fine if they are traveling in the cities, but in the remote mountains, the infrastruc­ture is not adequate.”

“When tourists go missing or they are found dead, even the government cannot track them because they have taken remote routes,” he added.

“This decision has been made for the tourists’ benefit,” he told the Indian news agency ANI.

The ban will go into effect on April 1. Nepal’s Tourism Board said it decided to expand a ban on solo hiking on Mount Everest to the whole country to prevent tourists without sufficient experience from getting into accidents or going missing.

Local guides say about a dozen trekkers go missing in Nepal’s terrain each year. Even when they are found, authoritie­s say rescuing them is prohibitiv­ely expensive and can sometimes be impossible in remote terrain.

As travel has become more affordable and the popularity of mountainee­ring has climbed around the world, countries like Nepal — which has at least parts of eight of the world’s 10 tallest mountains within its borders — have been overrun. This has led to previously unthinkabl­e scenes, like traffic jams on Mount Everest that can be dangerous to tired climbers, forcing them to spend more time in very high altitudes and depriving them of oxygen.

In 2019, some 300,000 trekkers traveled to Nepal, prepandemi­c figures from the government show. Some 46,000 went on solo hikes, Lamichhane of the Nepal Tourism Board told the New York Times. Many of these travelers prefer to hike alone to save money or because they appreciate the freedom to explore unbeaten paths. But the ground conditions can be dangerous, with high altitudes and changing temperatur­es, and authoritie­s say it’s easy to get lost or stuck.

It’s unclear exactly how many foreign trekkers go missing in Nepal each year and why. Local guides and law enforcemen­t have given figures ranging from five to 15 a year.

Some experts say lax safety standards play a role. Travel author David Ways, who runs the website Missingtre­, which tracks and collects individual reports of missing hikers in Nepal, wrote that “the overall standard of trekking safety in Nepal has plummeted.”

Chandra Kishor Shah, an inspector with Nepal’s Tourist Police, said five to six foreign trekkers go missing annually — many while hiking treacherou­s routes alone.

After a few years, these missing persons’ files are closed, Shah said, adding that the force is currently searching for five missing trekkers from South Korea, India, Israel, Jordan and Malaysia. The Malaysian trekker has been missing since 2015, he said, and the tourist police is still searching for them at “the family’s request.” The four others went missing last year, mainly in the Everest and Annapurna regions, the country’s most popular trekking destinatio­ns.

Nilhari Bastola, president of the Trekking Agencies Associatio­n of Nepal, told the Kathmandu Post that 10 to 15 hikers go missing in Nepal each year and that most are “free independen­t trekkers,” a designatio­n given to foreigners who have obtained a permit from authoritie­s to trek in certain unrestrict­ed areas without a tour group or guide.

Under the new rules, FITS will have to hire a licensed guide to trek inside Nepal’s 12 national parks, including on the country’s most popular trails, like the 145mile long Annapurna Circuit.

The U.S. State Department advises Americans never to trek alone in Nepal. According to the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu, hikers who get injured in remote areas may need to be rescued by helicopter — a service that can cost between $3,000 and $10,000.

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