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Sports >  Outdoors

Nepal will ban solo hiking in its National Parks

Ram Karki walks through the village of Ghatlang.  (ELI FRANCOVICH/The Spokesman-Review)
Ram Karki walks through the village of Ghatlang. (ELI FRANCOVICH/The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo
By Jenny Gross The New York Times Company

Solo hiking will be banned from Nepal’s national parks starting next month, a move that the country’s tourism board said would reduce the risks for the tens of thousands of adventure seekers who travel to the Himalayan country each year.

The decision, announced last week by the Nepal Tourism Board, comes after incidents in which tourists became lost and sometimes died while hiking alone, the board’s director, Mani R. Lamichhane, said Tuesday.

“There were many cases where tourists have disappeared,” Lamichhane said.

Deadly incidents involving solo trekkers had given some tourists the misperception that Nepal was an unsafe destination, he said.

The decision was reported earlier by The Kathmandu Post, an English-language newspaper in Nepal.

The new rules apply to international tourists of all experience levels on treks in Nepal’s national parks, such as the popular Annapurna Circuit, a 150-mile route that circles the Annapurna mountain range. Trekkers can still embark on solo hikes outside of national parks, such as around the city of Kathmandu.

The new rules broaden a 2017 mandate that banned solo climbing on Nepal’s mountains, including on Mount Everest, the world’s tallest peak. Eight of the world’s 10 tallest mountains are located at least partly in Nepal, which sits between India and China. Each year, deadly accidents, including ones caused by avalanches, blizzards and high-altitude sickness, are reported on Nepal’s mountains. Lamichhane did not respond to a request for comment on whether the 2017 ban led to a decrease in fatalities.

In 2019, before the pandemic, more than 400,000 tourists traveled to Nepal’s national parks for mountaineering and trekking, according to government figures; about 46,000 of them went hiking alone, Lamichhane said. Climbers came primarily from the United States, Britain, China, Germany, India and Japan.

Last year, there were about 22,000 solo trekkers in Nepal, as tourism recovered, even though the number was still down from the years before the pandemic, Lamichhane said. He added that he hoped the new rule would help create jobs for guides and other workers in the tourism industry.

Some hikers criticized the new rules.

Natalia Lange, 30, an actress from Warsaw, Poland, said she had been saving for a year for a monthlong trip to Nepal, including a solo hike to the Everest base camp via a route that would take her past the turquoise glacial lakes in the Gokyo Valley. Now, she is unsure if she has enough money to go ahead with the trip, she said.

“I’m an advanced trekker,” Lange said. “I don’t need a nanny.”

She said she was frustrated that the tourism board announced the changes just weeks before they were scheduled to come into effect.

“Many people already have trips planned and budgets tightened and simply cannot afford the extra cost,” she said.

Lange also questioned the selective nature of the rules, which do not apply to citizens of Nepal, given that they face some of the same risks as international visitors.

Before the pandemic, about 400 tourists were reported missing every year in Nepal, according to government statistics, although it was unclear how many of them were later located or whether they were hiking or climbing at the time they disappeared. From July 2020 to June 2021, when international travel was curtailed by the pandemic, 54 tourists were reported missing.

Tour companies, however, welcomed the new rule. Udaya Subedi, the owner of Happy Treks Nepal, a tour organizer in the city of Pokhara, said the rule would help ensure the safety of trekkers.

Subedi, who goes by the nickname Mr. Happy, said a South Korean woman who died in January while solo trekking on Mount Annapurna, possibly from altitude sickness, may have survived had she been with another hiker.

“Many incidents have happened like that,” he said.

The increasing risks from global warming and more unpredictable weather, including flash floods, was another reason that trekkers will be safer with licensed guides who are aware of risks, Lamichhane said. Nepal said last year that it was moving the site of the Mount Everest base camp, which is currently situated on a thinning glacier.

While the new rules will make trekking more expensive, Rupak Parajuli, the co-founder of Mount Mania Treks and Expedition in Kathmandu, said that the price of a porter is just $20 per day and a guide just $25 per day for some of the circuit and base camp routes.

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