High-profile fraud on Nepal Himalayas: 31 ascents sans permit

High-profile fraud on Nepal Himalayas: 31 ascents sans permit

An American explorer who often made headlines on international media for his numerous ‘world records’ on adventure and fitness has now come to Nepal – to violate the mountaineering law here.

It has been revealed that Sean Burch, who claimed to have made 31 first ascents in 21 days of previously unexplored peaks within the Kangnun Himal, Chandi Himal, Changla Himal and Valley regions of Humla district, violated significant provisions of the Tourism Act.

He was named an Honorary Goodwill Ambassador for the Nepal Tourism Year campaign in 2011 by the government for “his humanitarian efforts within the country.”

Serious breach

As per the explorer’s announcement, the Department of Tourism under the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation has also confirmed that Burch would face a stern action for making ascents of the numerous peaks including unopened mountains without climbing permits.

DoT Director Durga Datta Dhakal confirmed that Burch has not obtained a single permit to climb the virgin peaks in Humla district.

“He has blatantly violated the country’s law if it is true that he has climbed the peaks in far-western Nepal without obtaining any permit from DoT,” he said.

“I climbed the mountains between 11 October and 31 October after receiving permits required by the Department of Immigration under the Ministry of Home Affairs,” Burch told THT Online. But, the DoI cannot issue climbing permits as it was only mandated to allow entry of the visitors into the restricted areas after getting a recommendation from the DoT.

“The DoT never issued any recommendation letter to the DoI for Burch’s entry to Humla peaks,” Dhakal said.

No government permits were needed for the Humla District for trekking peaks below 6,500 metres, Burch, however, added, claiming that all 31 peaks were below the altitude of 6,000 metres, and fall outside the restrictions.

Dhakal, on the other hand, dismissed Burch’s claims and added that all climbers must obtain permits for royalty-free mountains and follow the due procedures. “Climbing unopened peaks is also a heinous crime,” he said.

According to the Tourism Act, if any mountaineering expedition team or its member scale any Himalayan-peak not opened for mountaineering, the government may impose a fine equal to the amount of three times the royalty to be paid for scaling the highest Himalayan peak opened for mountaineering while two times the highest royalty for scaling any opened peak without the permit. In Nepal, the government has only opened 414 peaks including the Mt Everest and 17 mountains in Humla.

The DoT charges USD 3,000 per climber for an ascent of the Mt Everest, the highest royalty.

While 17 peaks are opened in Humla for climbing, less than 10 remained unclimbed till date, according to the DoT.

World climbers say it is highly impossible to climb 31 mountains in 21 days whatever the altitudes they have.

Mingma Sherpa, a five-time Everest summiteer from Rolwaling said it was not possible to climb all the virgin peaks in 21 days as climbers need to find a route up to the summit.

Flashy packaging

Burch, who made it to get the proclamations from the District Development Committee and Karnali Tourism Promotion and Development Committee acknowledging his most first ascents of previously unclimbed mountains, said that this expedition was done in order to not only promote tourism in Nepal, but also to assist reviving the Nepal tourism industry as a whole by showing the world there are plenty of new tourism destinations in Nepal and they can be explored whilst contributing to local development.

Burch remarked, “I wanted to help with the recovery and revival of the tourism sector, to send a positive message to the world that Nepal is safe and open for tourists.”

“I also wanted to document uncharted mountains high enough to be unspoiled and away from humans in order to show climate change as it occurs in real time.”

“I have already received two of the government proclamations while there will be more in coming weeks when the Tourism Minister returns from England,” Burch claimed.

According to him, he spent 12 to 16 hours a day climbing, battled severe winds, high altitude, snowstorms, trench foot, frostbite, and extreme hypothermia and a helicopter evacuation was about to be needed by the American Embassy in Kathmandu due to an unplanned overnight bivouac in sub-freezing temperatures. “These 31 mountains ranged in the height from 16,000 to over 19,000 feet.”

The DoT Director Dhakal said that the Department would immediately correspond with the concerned authorities to investigate into the issues.

Jeroen van den Bergh, Country Director for The Nepal Trust, said that Burch had been working with TNT, to bring awareness on maternal and newborn health and development in the region in general. TNT and Kathmandu-based Tailored Treks supported Burch’s bid, he said.

Sean Burch is an American explorer, extreme adventure athlete, documentarian, author and motivational speaker. Burch currently holds seven World Records in fitness and adventure sectors.

He has been featured on various international media as an extraordinary adventurer.

Burch is the creator and founder of Hyperfitness, a wellness programme. He is also the author of “Hyperfitness: 12 Weeks to Conquering Your Inner Everest and Getting into the Best Shape of Your Life.”

In terms of social work, he is also Asia Pacific Brands Foundation 2015 Brand Personality Award Winner. He has partnered with The Nepal Trust, No Kid Hungry Program, the World Wildlife Fund, the Fujisan Club, ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation, Children’s Welfare Institutes (CWI) in Tibet, and The Himalayan Rescue Association’s multiple health outpost clinics throughout the Khumbu region of Nepal.

Source: THT