Brice: “Easy to make statements and then do nothing”
He is the doyen of the western expedition operators. The New Zealander Russell Brice has been leading expeditions to the Himalayas since 1974. Hardly any of his colleagues has so much experience as the 63-year-old head of Himalayan Experience, not only in organizing trips to the eight-thousanders but also in dealing with the authorities. It is something that has almost been forgotten, that Russell at an earlier age was an excellent high altitude climber – and an Everest pioneer: Along with the Briton Harry Taylor he first climbed the Three Pinnacles on the Northeast Ridge in 1988.
I wanted to know what Brice thinks about the current situation in Nepal:
Russ, for this spring Himalayan Experience is offering expeditions in Nepal to Mount Everest and Lhotse. How great is the demand?
Very small numbers compared to past years.
Yes very much so, many people want to see a safe and successful season before they book. So the 2016 season will be quite important as an indication that we can still climb Everest relatively safely.
In 2015, the Nepalese authorities announced stricter rules for climbers on Everest – restrictions on age (denying access to climbers younger than 18 and older than 75), a minimum of high mountaineering experience (at least having scaled a 6,500 m peak) and physical requirements. What do you think about this?
Nepal authorities are always making announcements but then it takes them forever to actually formalise. Yes I think that it is a good idea to make a minimum and maximum age limit as this can stop some ridiculous pursuit by some.
To climb 6,500m means nothing. You can climb a relatively easy summit like Aconcagua and this would be admissible, but a more difficult summit like Denali is not admissible. Do you think the Nepal authorities have any idea if people have climbed these summits or not, of course not, and they do not take any interest in any case, and most people will just lie. Much better to ask that Everest climbers have climbed another 8,000m summit before Everest, and then the Nepal authorities actually have a chance to check.
Two and half months before the beginning of the spring season, these new regulations have not yet come in effect – as little as the promised extension of 2015 climbing permits. Are you annoyed at the government’s apathy – or maybe used to it?
Yes totally I am extremely disappointed in the lack of effort by the government to distribute earthquake funds to those who need help, and the lack of interest to try and rebuild the tourist industry. So easy to make statements and then do nothing.
I heard that there will be a climbing permit credit for those that were on expeditions last year, for two years, but again this has not been passed at parliament level, and we have no details of how it will be implemented. So how can we pass this on to our members.
Last year we got our previous permit credits at 8 o’clock the night before we left for BC at 06.00 the next morning. So it was us as operators who took a big risk in bringing these members to Nepal, with no support from the authorities.
Despite of the fact that there were no summit successes from the Nepalese side of Everest in the past two years, you don’t switch over to north. Why not?
I am not geared up to operate in Tibet, but also still do not trust the Chinese authorities like Tibet was closed again this last autumn season. When Tibet was closed 3 days before I was supposed to go there in 2008 I lost a quarter million dollars, I cannot afford to have this happen again.
But also I need to try and help the Nepal people as much as I can, the government certainly isn’t.
The situation in Nepal is still difficult – also due to the continuing blockade of the Nepalese border with India. Do you look forward to the upcoming spring season with optimism or mixed feelings?
I am ashamed and embarrassed that the new Nepalese government has not been able to resolve the embargo after so many months. I am also very worried that it will not be resolved by the time that the climbing season starts, and this is going to have a big impact on us as operators with the cost of food, fuel, transport and the like.
I am not looking forward to the next season, but we need to be there and be positive, because if the local authorities cannot offer that, then we had best do our best. Too many people rely upon us to bring tourists to Nepal, so we need to do our best to try and rebuild this business.
Date18. January 2016 | 12:43