The Himalayas, the majestic range of peaks that crowns the world, has always been the scene of unparalleled human challenges, attracting mountaineers in search of glory and personal fulfilment. In recent decades, however, a radical transformation has taken place. Once the preserve of seasoned adventurers and mountain purists, Himalayan mountaineering has been overrun by a wave of commercial tourism. This phenomenon, described in detail by François Carrel in his book “Himalayan Business, qu’avons-nous fait des 8000” (published by Paulsen), raises crucial questions about the impact of this industrialisation on the world’s highest and most emblematic peaks. In an exclusive interview, he offers his keen insight into the profound changes taking place in mountaineering.

For more than 20 years, François Carrel has written numerous articles on mountaineering for leading French newspapers such as Libération and other specialised magazines. He conducts in-depth research, collects personal testimonies and analyses trends in the world of mountaineering.

For his book, François Carrel combined his journalistic skills with his love of the high mountains. This research is the fruit of two decades of observing and writing about mountains. He has spent a lot of time on the ground, from Pakistan to Kathmandu via the Khumbu Valley, to understand the local and global dynamics that influence commercial mountaineering.

He invites us to reflect on this rapid evolution and to consider the future of mountaineering in a world increasingly focused on consumerism and performance.

The emergence of “commercial Himalayanism”.

Two major factors have contributed to a profound change in Himalayanism and high mountain tourism in general. Firstly, the speed records for climbing the fourteen highest peaks have highlighted the development of techniques and logistics, allowing previously unimaginable performances. Modern equipment, improved climbing techniques and the use of bottled oxygen have made climbing the Himalayan peaks more accessible. In addition, the increasing use of helicopters to transport equipment and climbers has revolutionised the mountaineering experience, making ascents faster and less physically demanding.

Climbing the Himalayas with oxygen and handrails. @Nimsdai

Secondly, the commercialisation of Himalayanism has played a crucial role in this evolution. The images of Everest saturated with climbers, waiting in single file to reach the summit, testify to a worrying trend towards overcrowding. Organised expeditions, offered by specialised agencies, provide all-inclusive services that make summits accessible for a few thousand (or ten thousand) euros, even to inexperienced amateurs. These offers include professional guides, porters, sophisticated equipment and impeccable logistics, making climbing a luxury product accessible to those who can afford it.

SACRED MOUNTAINS HAVE BECOME COMMERCIAL ARENAS, WHERE THE PURSUIT OF PROFIT SOMETIMES ECLIPSES HUMAN AND ENVIRONMENTAL VALUES.

Delving into the realities of commercial tourism in the Himalayas, François Carrel explores how these changes are influencing not only the majestic landscape of these mountains, but also local communities and the very essence of mountaineering.

Democratising Himalayan mountaineering: from the elite to the masses

In his analysis, the expert describes how Himalayan mountaineering has evolved from a practice reserved for an elite of experienced mountaineers to a mass activity accessible through commercialisation. He explores the technological and logistical advances that have facilitated this transition. In particular, it highlights the importance of distinguishing between three types of mountaineers in the Himalayas, each with distinct motivations and approaches to the mountain.

The “trekkers” who come to the Himalayas to trek, without aiming to reach the highest peaks. They walk the trails and explore the valleys, often for the cultural experience and the beauty of the landscape. Their main motivation is to discover remote areas, enjoy nature and meet local people. Their approach is more contemplative and less focused on performance or self-improvement.

Although their presence contributes to local tourism, hikers tend to have less environmental impact than other categories. They also help diversify tourism revenues, benefiting more local communities.

Traditional Himalayans” are experienced mountaineers who undertake high mountain expeditions with a traditional approach. They favour technical ascents, often solo or in small teams, with minimal external support. They are motivated by personal challenge, adventure and purity of experience. They value autonomy, endurance and technical skills. For them, the essence of mountaineering lies in direct confrontation with nature, without excessive dependence on external aids such as guides or bottled oxygen.

Everest base camp. Nimsdai

Finally, there is a growing number of “Himalayan commercial tourists”, who undertake high-altitude expeditions for commercial purposes. They buy all-inclusive packages offered by specialised agencies that provide them with guides, porters, equipment and logistics. Their motivations are primarily the pursuit of prestige, personal fulfilment and often the desire to realise a dream or challenge. Their approach is more consumerist, and they are attracted by the promise of successful ascents thanks to the extensive assistance provided. The impact of these tourists is significant. Their increasing numbers lead to problems of overcrowding, pollution and waste management. Commercial expeditions also require heavy infrastructure, which contributes to environmental degradation. In addition, the local economy benefits unevenly, often to the detriment of communities further away from the main tourist circuits.

The double “Nimsdai” effect

Intense media coverage and the influence of social networks have amplified the phenomenon of tourist over-exploitation of the mountain, transforming the mountaineering experience into a quest for social recognition. An emblematic example of this dynamic is the Nimsdai phenomenon.

Nirmal Purja, better known as Nimsdai, is a central figure in the media coverage of modern mountaineering. A former member of the British Special Forces, Nimsdai became known around the world with his unprecedented ascent of the world’s fourteen highest peaks in just six months and six days, smashing the previous record by almost seven years, but using heavy technological means (including oxygen and helicopter) that challenged the notion of “achievement”.

Nimsdai, the Nepali who climbed 14 8,000-metre peaks in 6 months.

The documentary “14 Peaks: Nothing is impossible”, aired on Netflix, chronicles this incredible adventure. The film not only popularised Nimsdai’s feat, but also highlighted the physical, logistical and psychological challenges of high-altitude mountaineering. The media coverage of the documentary has attracted a wide audience, fascinating not only mountaineering enthusiasts, but also a wider public who may not be familiar with the sport.

Selfies at 8000 m altitude?

Nimsdai actively uses social media to share his experiences and exploits. His Instagram account (with almost 2.1 million followers) is full of spectacular photos, videos of summits and inspirational accounts of his climbs. This online presence has helped to build a huge fan base and raise awareness of the opportunities and challenges of Himalayan mountaineering.

Intense media coverage and the influence of social media are creating a growing fascination with Himalayan peaks and inspiring many enthusiasts to attempt these feats. The quest for recognition and social validation drives many individuals to attempt these feats, often for the prestige and accolades they gain.

“FOR SOME, THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS IS BEING ABLE TO TAKE THAT FAMOUS SELFIE ON TOP OF THE WORLD”.

François Carrel also warns us of the risks of this popularity and over-visioning: “One day or another, we will see a great tragedy on Everest. When 200 people walk the normal route on the same day, they form endless queues, often with oxygen, staying for hours in very dangerous areas, exposed to avalanches. It is easy to imagine 40, 50 or even 60 deaths in a single day”.

Everest traffic jam

Nepalese take over (commercial) tourism in the Himalayas

In his book, François Carrel explains how the Nepalese, especially the Sherpas, have gradually taken control of high-altitude tourism by creating and developing their own trekking and expedition agencies. These agencies offer full services that rival those of Westerners and are capturing a significant share of the tourism market.

Nepalese guides and porters, once considered mere assistants on Western expeditions, are now recognised for their expertise and professionalism. The training and certification of many local guides has increased, reinforcing their status and autonomy in the mountaineering industry.

Nimsdai’s influence has not gone unnoticed. It represents a symbol of the re-appropriation of the world’s highest mountains, drawing global attention to the potential and talent of Nepalese mountaineers.

Of course, the rise of commercial tourism in the Himalayas offers significant economic opportunities for local communities. Guides, porters and local agencies benefit from the income generated by this tourism. However, these benefits are often concentrated in the hands of a few players, and the economic impact on mountain communities remains limited. This dynamic creates continuous pressure to increase the volume of tourists and associated revenues.

Towards the dehumanisation of mountaineering?

Paradoxically, this media coverage is highlighting the loss of the altruistic and caring values that were once central to mountaineering. François Carrel cites examples of mountaineers abandoned in distress to allow others to continue their ascent, illustrating a greater emphasis on individual performance and success to the detriment of mutual aid.

“WE HAVE COME TO FORGET A NUMBER OF VALUES THAT WE USED TO THINK WERE SO INTEGRAL TO THE HIMALAYAS, SUCH AS HELPING PEOPLE”

Commercial Himalayanism: what future for high-altitude tourism?

The issues surrounding commercial high-altitude tourism are complex and multifaceted. François Carrel wants the public to be aware of the rapid changes taking place in the field of Himalayan mountaineering and the consequences of these changes for the mountains and local communities.

Photo of a porter between Pheriche (4,300 m) and Lobuche (5,000 m) ®nimsdai_foundation

He stresses the importance of distinguishing between high-level Himalayanism, practised by experienced and independent mountaineers, and commercial Himalayanism, where ascents are often facilitated by full paid services. In his view, this distinction is important “to put performance in a commercial context in its proper place”.

These commercial ascents are feats that need to be contextualised in relation to industrial methods and the extensive support they receive. He hopes that the public will stop overvaluing these ascents, which are often achieved with considerable financial and technical resources.

François Carrel hopes that his book will encourage reflection on the fundamental values of mountaineering, such as mutual aid, autonomy and respect for the environment. “Mountaineering should not be reduced to a mere spectacle or a consumer product.

Finally, he hopes to encourage the altitude tourism industry to “adopt more sustainable and respectful practices” and that his book, published exclusively in French, “will serve as a starting point for a broader conversation on the future of mountaineering in the Himalayas, highlighting current challenges and possible solutions for a more balanced altitude tourism that respects human and environmental values”.