Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Cost$ of Climbing Everest

So just how much does it cost to climb Mt. Everest? It’s a question I hear a great deal, as soon as folks find out my wife is an Everest climber. When the conversation comes up, invariably at some point either subtly or not so subtly, people want to know “So just how much this is costing you guys?” I really don’t mind the question and don’t mind answering though. It is a fairly interesting topic as a matter of fact. I hope this can give folks a pretty general idea.

The common opinion deriving from the “Into Thin Air” readers is that it costs $65,000. If I had a dollar for every time someone has quoted me that figure…. Ah, but Mr. Krakaeur’s book is now almost 15 years out of date. Still, it’s not an utterly inaccurate figure. It’s just that the entire game has changed since Jon wrote his infamous book. You can still pay that amount, if one has the means to, of course, you can now even pay more. People wouldn’t be summiting Everest in record numbers every year though if everyone on the mountain were paying that kind of money. We are in a worldwide recession, remember?

Back in 1996, almost all expeditions who took clients were climbing on the South Side of Everest, from Nepal. Towards the end of the 90’s however, China relaxed a great deal on letting climbers give it a go from the North Side, through Tibet. China’s climbing permit fees are far less than Nepal’s, hence the cost of the entire expedition from Tibet is less. This was coupled with another revolution in Everest climbing – that of the unguided climber. People were beginning to find out that with enough experience on other mountains, one could be just as experienced in climbing Mt. Everest as your guide on Mt. Everest would be, should you choose to hire one. So why hire a guide? Climbers realized all you really needed was someone to take care of the logistics of an Everest attempt, someone to hire the Sherpas, move the gear to the different camps, check on the weather, provide communications, etc. – In other words, all you really needed was a Base Camp Manager. These factors combined with increased competition to drive the price for climbing Mt. Everest from the North Side down to a more reasonable rate, more realistic for the masses whose interest was now peaking in the sport.

It took a little while for the South Side to catch up. Until 2008, when the Chinese decided to close down the North for the season, the majority of Everest climbers were going from Tibet. When the Chinese showed the world their Olympic glory was more important to them, and that they had the power to close down the mountain at any time they wanted, that made many climbers think twice about investing even the lesser cost of an expedition to their side. As a result, unguided expeditions on the south side boomed, albeit for still a slightly higher cost than the north could offer. Yet even this year, 2010, there were more teams on the North Side than on the South.

From Nepal, the permit fee is higher, but also there are other factors that make the price a little more. Nepalese Sherpas “cost” more to hire than Tibetan Sherpas. (The Sherpas from Nepal are thought to be superior to their Tibetan cousins.) There is also the matter of the trek into Base Camp. On the south side, a 10-14 day journey is made by foot, where all supplies must be carried in by yak and by Sherpa’s back. On the north side, those crafty Chinese have built and paved a road right to Chinese Base Camp, so supplies can be trucked in most of the way, and only a two-day journey is needed by foot to reach Advanced Base Camp, where most climbers stay.

Some climbers don’t prefer the unguided option. For these folks, the security of a guided team presents an acceptable upgrade in the cost of their Everest journey. Rightly so, as hiring a guide does increase one’s chances of summiting, Everest is no picnic and many who try to climb the mountain do not make it. If you have the money to spend, it can be worth it to spend the extra $20,000 - $40,000 to give yourself little better odds.

So the following prices are from the more notable companies providing logistical and climbing support on Everest. This is just a sampling, there are more companies than this, but this gives a good cross-section of the differences. All of these prices include oxygen. Since only a handful of people in the world are capable of climbing Everest without supplemental oxygen, it really is pointless to state their costs without oxygen. Cleverly, some companies will give a price, but after reading the fine print the hidden costs become evident, the biggest one of these being oxygen. So oxygen and other hidden costs have been added in if they weren’t already. This is just the costs from climbing either side and I’ve left out the Pros and Cons of each side, as that would really is another blog entirely.

From the Tibet (North-China) Side

Asian Trekking - $23,000. Asian Trekking is a Nepalese company owned and run by Sherpas. They do offer one of the most cost-efficient ways to climb. Their success rate is not fantastic, a climber must rely heavily on his or her own experience. Their north side reputation for quality is not as good as their south side reputation. This is an unguided expedition, although you would have a Sherpa with you for summit day. An extra “personal” Sherpa is available for about $6,000 more.

Adventure Peaks - $23,500. A company from England catering to mostly British climbers. Bloody ‘ell. This one is also an unguided expedition, and really geared toward British climbers with a great deal of previous experience at high altitude. They have a good success rate, mostly due because they are aimed towards climbers who already have a good background and good chance to summit anyway.

Summit Climb - $29,500. Low-budget provider run by American Dan Mazur, Summit Climb is a popular choice for many Americans. The price shown includes 5 bottles of oxygen, which is about the minimum needed. This price includes a personal Sherpa, which you can pay for on your own our split his services with another team member, reducing the cost to you. This too is an unguided expedition, but they do offer the services of a guide however, for those willing to pay extra.

Having an extra Sherpa with you on your summit day is a really good idea.

7 Summits Club - $29,900. Run by Russian Alex Abramovich, this company runs a fully guided expedition at a bargain basement price. Most of the people who climb with 7 Summits are predominantly from Europe and Eastern Europe countries.

From the Nepal (South) Side-


Summit Climb - $34,000. Dan Mazur’s company again, this is their South Side option. To revisit the oxygen subject, 5 bottles is really a minimum. Each bottle extra is $510, and even on their website they state it is nice to have at least 2 bottles extra. This is unguided although you climb with at least one Sherpa all the time. This price includes a private Sherpa, so you would have 2 Sherpas with you on Summit Day.

Asian Trekking - $37,000. The Nepalese company has a much better reputation for their south side endeavors. Their Eco-Everest expedition, besides putting a number of members on the summit, helps to clean debris and garbage from the mountain. They also run the Everest bakery in Base Camp. This is an unguided expedition, but the price there includes a private Sherpa, so again a climber has two Sherpas with her on Summit Day.

IMG - $40,000. International Mountain Guides is a very well respected company from the USA. They were featured in last year’s Discovery Everest series joining with Russell Brice’s Himex expedition. This is for their unguided option, which includes a personal Sherpa. They have a reputation for running very organized expeditions.

Peak Freaks - $45,000. Same sort of thing, unguided expedition with a “Leader” but no guide. This is their price which again includes the private Sherpa.


Himex - $55,000. Led by Russell Brice and made famous by the Everest “Beyond the Limit” Discovery television series. For years they were the considered the best company on the north side, but had to cancel the 2008 season and afterwards decided only to guide from the south side. Their price, however, is still the same. So when they were on the north side they were one of the most expensive options, and now on the south side they are one of the most inexpensive options among the guided groups. Funny.

Jagged Globe - $58,000. British company that leads full service expedition.

Mountain Trips - $62,000. US-based company offering full service expedition.

Mountain Madness - $63,000. Very reputable Seattle-based company.

Adventure Consultants - $65,000. Company founded by Rob Hall, the famous guide who died in 1996. Back then, they charged $65,000 to climb the mountain. Today, they charge $65,000 to climb. How many things cost the same as they did 14 years ago? I’ve got to believe their profit margin has gone down as the years have gone by, but maybe they make up for it with more people climbing now. I don’t know. I kind of have the feeling that back in ’96 they were just pulling the $65k figure out of their asses, and now it actually costs them that much to put the expedition like this on.

IMG - $70,000. This is IMG’s guided option. So for an extra $30,000 you get the services of a guide. Seems like an awful lot to pay, yet people will pay it or they wouldn’t be able to charge it.

RMI - $74,000. Climb Mt Everest with a world-famous mountaineer as your guide. Quite a thrill if you can afford it. I guess it would be something like driving Daytona speedway with Jeff Gordon or something.

So it’s a lot of money, no matter what way you look at it, but it really doesn’t have to be as prohibitive as you might think. Sponsorship can help, but we know from experience that sponsorship is a double-edged sword. Nobody just gives you money and expects nothing in return. Then there are so many other climbers out there that sponsors can pick and choose who they want to support and why, which can make it very frustrating to those who are not chosen. Then you hear the stories of how much climbers ask for from companies to sponsor them. I heard reports that Jordan Romero, the 13-year old climber, costs were $50,000 a piece for him, his dad and his dad’s girlfriend to climb. They were unguided too. That made me scratch my head a little, what – did the dad quit his job to train? Why so much? I hear other stories of climbers asking for $120,000 from companies to sponsor them. It must be nice to have some stupid company pay you that kind of cash just to climb. Imagine how much a really good climber could pocket from that if he went with one of the low-budget climbing outfits? What a brilliant scam. Whatever CEO gives someone that kind of scratch should put down the copy of Into Thin Air and really investigate the actual costs.

Of course all expeditions are not created equal. They more you pay, the more extras and benefits you will have. I haven’t gone into much detail on this, because there are so many differences between each company. Just like whether a climber chooses to climb the North or the South side routes, there are Pros and Cons for all of the climbing companies. This is just about the cost, nothing more. Other things that must be taken into consideration are equipment (a pair of Everest OneSport boots made by Millet, regarded as the best boots for Everest, run about $800-$900) or plane ticket to Kathmandu ($2500 or so). Then there’s satellite phone minutes to call home, and just spending money in general – oh, those hidden costs! Oh yes, also don't forget that you will be taking off work for about 2 1/2 months - the length of the expedition. That won't cost you too much will it?