14-20 November 2014 #732

Come fly with me

Ted Atkins

Nepal's latest extreme adventure product: The Everest Sky Dive

Sanjiv Gautam, the Deputy Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, jump as a tandem attached to professional skydiver Tom Noonan.
Paul-Henry de Baère

In the Royal Air Force parachutes used to be our ‘safety nets’. If everything went wrong, your chute was the last resort. So why would anyone want to jump out of a perfectly serviceable plane? Because it can be done.

'There is always a certain element of risk in being alive, but the more alive you are the greater the risk,' goes the saying, and it doesn’t just apply to skydiving, it is true for all walks of life. If you don’t take any risks, you don’t make any gain.

In skydiving this takes an added dimension: the greater the risk the greater the return. I have done many things in my life, and I did not think anything could ever beat the moment I stood on the summit of Mt Everest. But perched on the skids of a helicopter with Himalayan peaks around knowing you are going to launch into space is hard to beat. I hope I never get used to it. I want to feel that moment every time, all my senses alive, the fear, the rush of life.

Not so many people will ever know this feeling, but one Nepali does: the Deputy Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, Sanjiv Gautam. This week, he jumped as a tandem attached to my colleague Tom Noonan (pic) who is a professional skydiver and Tandem Master. My job is to supply the oxygen systems that kept these people conscious as they fall through the atmosphere.

Skydiving is an interesting business model for Nepal and has been tried in Pokhara (right) and near Everest. Parachuting has evolved from being a lifesaver to a sport. Chutes evolved from huge round ones to tiny, highly technical devices. Parachuting was not enough, the fun was in the freefall. But just tracking a chute was not enough, so we moved onto the wingsuit (far right) -- now that's real flying.

Of course even this is not enough. To fly longer we have to go higher. To go higher we need oxygen. And where in the world can you fly higher than in Nepal? There is only one Mt Everest, and to fly alongside the Goddess Mother you need to be in Nepal.

Suman Pandey of Explore Himalaya had the vision to see the business of skydiving in Nepal. He knew how the sport would evolve, helped facilitate The Everest Skydive, bringing tourists to Nepal to experience its newest extreme adventure product. CAAN also saw the potential, and people like Gautam went up there to experience the thrill for himself.

Another group of tourists will leave Nepal this week having spent considerable sums of money, happy and thrilled with their accomplishment. When they are happy, they will tell others. And that is how it works. Simple business plan: make people happy, get them to spread the word and boost Nepal’s image and tourism income.

Ted Atkins is a former RAF Chief Engineering Officer and runs a company specialising in oxygen equipment.

Read also:

Freefall over Everest

Killing the goose

Nepal’s mountaineering industry risks being like the story of the farmer who killed the goose that laid golden eggs because one golden egg a day wasn't good enough for him.

With the Everest avalanche and the Annapurna blizzard, this has been a terrible year for Nepal’s tourism. The deaths in the mountains have changed the lives of many, and there have been cancellations of booked trips.

Being in the heart of the climbing industry, I get a lot of feedback from visitors to Nepal. Even before these disasters, people had started saying they would not visit Nepal again for various reasons.

Mt Everest is a goldmine, and like the goose, it has to be kept alive. A permit to climb Mt Everest from the Nepal side costs $10,000, and it will go up to $11,000  from the next season. This is much more than what it costs to climb from the Tibet side to the same summit. 

From the Chinese side, the $7,200 permit gets you: all jeep transport for team and support, trucks for your gear to Base Camp, yaks to Advance Base Camp, all food and accommodation up to Advance Base Camp. A Nepali Everest permit for $11,000 is just a piece of paper with your name on it.

Further, climbers who paid the permit fee last season and never got to climb the mountain because of the avalanche have not got extensions or refunds. The government is reportedly offering a deal whereby they can come back to climb again and not pay, but only against one permit. So, if there are 10 names on a permit and only one person comes back to climb next year then the permit is closed for the other nine people.

This is not easily confirmed, and even the industry does not know what is happening, but it is unfair and the climbers feel cheated. In fact, they are so outraged some are saying that they will never return. This can be fixed so easily: every person who paid the government is registered as having paid. They can come back any time and redeem the permit that they paid for and climb the mountain. That would be the honest thing to do.

The final losses in revenue to the state and in wages and sustenance to the people in the industry will be huge. Climbers are making plans for the next season now, and now is the time to set this right. Nepal can still win the day by making a clear and unambiguous statement that these mountaineers are honoured guests who have paid and are welcome.

It just takes one smart person with some vision to say let's do this. there has been changes in the ministry, and hopefully it will fix the situation for these guests and for the honour of Nepal.

Ted Atkins


Produced by Ayesha Shakya

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