Everest not for the faint-hearted - or poor

20:20, May 28 2013
NOT CHEAP TO CONQUER: A trip to the top of Everest will take its toll on your bank account.

So you want to climb Everest?

Before you start, clear a few years in your calendar and set aside $100,000 or so.

Today marks 60 years since Kiwi mountaineer Edmund Hillary scaled the mountain with Sherpa Mountaineering companies can get you standing on the roof of the world, but it costs about $80,000 – excluding flights from New Zealand to Kathmandu, and plenty of other associated expenses.

Gordon Janow, the co-founder of an American business called Alpine Ascents, defends having some of the steeper fees in the business.

A historian and writer who teamed up with his mountaineer business partner in 1990, Janow maintains that if there is a luxury service, his company provides it.

"There's around 15 companies that run it, with a few of these being Nepali companies, with differing levels of service," he says. "We're on the higher, more conservative end."

The Seattle-based company says its $US65,000 fee (NZ$80,000) covers two months on Everest, all the oxygen you need, daily meals, a communications tent and a dining tent.

It also increases your chances of survival, Janow argues.

"It's very difficult to have a good appetite at high altitude, but you need a lot of protein – if your guide service is serving local meals, rice and lentils every night, it's pretty hard to stay healthy."

On each climb, there is a different professional climbing guide, who has been on a training course testing their ability to climb and to lead people.

Things can get fraught on the side of the mountain, Janow says.

"You can imagine people are pretty uptight or freaking out at times; how to manage their expectations is pretty important," he says.

"It's not just the skill of the climbing, but their ability to work with people in difficult times."

But you cannot just rock up to the bottom of Everest and ask to tag along.

With a company like Alpine Ascents, which gets about 1500 applications from people wanting to climb Everest each year, you would need to have made several other difficult climbs with them before being accepted for a guided ascent.

"For us, if you're climbing Everest you've been with us for about three, four, or five climbs before," Janow says.

"They'd almost have to as a prerequisite for us. If you just did a course, we wouldn't take you on an Everest expedition." And without being "too rigid", he names three other mountains that his company expects clients to have climbed pre-Everest.

Mount Rainier is first up, in Washington State in the western United States. It is more than 4000 metres high and a guided trip will cost about $2000.

Then try Aconcagua, at almost 7000m, in the Andes. This would cost about $5000.

Done that? Now take on Cho Oyu, "a little more expensive", at $25,000. On the border of Nepal and Tibet, it is the sixth-highest mountain in the world, at over 8000m. From the summit, you can see Everest.

Cho Oyu is the classic climb to do before Everest, Janow says.

Alpine Ascents monitors its clients on each of the climbs, to ensure they are in peak physical condition.

When it comes time for Everest, he says it will be obvious if you can make the climb or not.

"We are seeing you on mountains beforehand, so you're generally training for mountaineering in general around four or five days a week," he said.

"Ninety-nine per cent of the time it's obvious if they're not going to make it – they're on the climb before, they're exhausted, they can't make it up the mountain, they're suffering from altitude, they've got a bad knee – any one of these things."

That is why on top of your fee you will want to buy "trip cancellation" insurance – and why, if things were to go awry on your climb, you will have wanted to buy an "evacuation fee" first, which costs about $1000.

Alpine Ascents' website advises: "Climbers must be able to carry an average of 30lbs (13.5kg) or more and be physically and mentally prepared to deal with strenuous situations at high altitudes.

"Climbers need to be in excellent physical condition for both personal enjoyment and to be an integral team member."

Some companies offered a kind of "bare-bones, you're on your own, here's your tent", service, Janow said.

They would be cheaper, but may not have the food, the medical supplies, or the experience to guide a climb through Everest's hostile environment.

More than 200 people have died trying to conquer Everest.


Return flights to Kathmandu: $2000

Everest Alpine Ascents package: $80,000

Visa cost: $100

Recommended spending money: $2000

Evacuation fee: $1000

Mount Rainier: $2000

Aconcagua: $5000

Cho Oyu: $25,000

Total: $117,100

(Costs approximate)