KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Climbers turned back from Mount Everest by a deadly earthquake and avalanche last year will be able to attempt to scale the world's tallest peak again this year or next without paying new permit fees, Nepal said Tuesday.
The April 25 earthquake killed thousands of people across the Himalayan country, including 19 people hit by an avalanche at Everest base camp. Entire teams of climbers were forced to abandon their attempts at the summit.
Nepal hopes that extending their $11,000 climbing permits by another two years will reassure Western climbers and bring many back, Mountaineering Department official Gyanendra Shrestha said. Permits normally last for only one climbing season, which runs from March to May.
Expedition companies cheered the decision, noting that mountaineers had been spooked by the 2015 disaster as well as a 2014 avalanche that killed 16 guides.
"It is a welcome move from the government that we hope will help bring back the climbers to the mountains," said Ang Tshering of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.
The back-to-back disasters have been worrying for Nepal, which earns millions of dollars from permit fees in an industry that employs tens of thousands of people as guides, porters and equipment suppliers. It's hard to say how many will show up for the 2016 climbing season, which began Tuesday. But expedition companies have said their bookings are down from previous years by about half.
"We are encouraged by the permit extension. This will help the local climbing businesses to once again get back on their feet after two bad years," said Temba Tsheri of the Sherpa Khagri Outdoors agency in Kathmandu, who lost three foreign clients and two local workers last year.
Since Everest was conquered by New Zealander Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay in 1953, the peak has been climbed by thousands of people. But hundreds have also died on its unpredictable slopes.