Press Release from the IGO-8000
IGO-8000 International Guiding Operators - 8000
C/- B.P.12 74400 Les Praz Chamonix FRANCE
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN
In recent months there has been considerable
attention focused on high altitude guiding and the various companies that offer such
services. Even before the disaster that took place in May 1996, several of the more
prominent operators have been in discussion on how to inform prospective clients of the
differences in various operations that can be found advertising in the media. Since 1996
the UIAA has also become involved with discussions with the same objective. In the last
few weeks several operators have agreed to form an association which will represent
operators of the highest standards. These operators have endeavored to produce a
constitution that will ensure that members will have the highest standards of equipment,
staff and safety during the course of commercial expeditions to extreme altitudes.
The UIAA in conjunction with IGO-8000 has
formulated a "Recommended Code of Practice For High Altitude Commercial
Expeditions" which we fully endorse. Although there are many commercial operators in
the world, few in fact fit into the stringent acceptance levels for membership to
IGO-8000. We are a self-regulating body which is spread through out the world, but all
with the common goal to try and make altitude guiding safer for clients, local staff and
The following organizations are the founding
members of "International Guiding Operators - 8000" Adventure Consultants
Ltd, Himalayan Experience Ltd, Himalayan Guides, Himalayan Kingdoms Expeditions,
International Mountain Guides, Mountain Works, and OTT Expeditions.
IGO-8000 represents high altitude guides and
operators of commercial expeditions to 8000 meter peaks, and will act as a common body
world wide. IGO-8000 aims to establish the highest standards of current practice within
the membership and encourages others to achieve those high standards. These standards are
set out in the UIAA Recommended Code Of Practice For High Altitude Guided Commercial
Expeditions. High altitude guiding needs considerable previous experience; membership of
IGO-8000 is limited to those who have regularly guided above 8000m and observe the
necessary high standards of practice. The Code of Practice deals with the following
1. The members will produce marketing literature
that accurately reflects the seriousness of high altitude mountaineering, and includes
details of staff to be employed. 2. The operation will be self sufficient in terms of
food, fuel, safety ropes, medical equipment and radio communications. 3. The members will
provide the proper level of supervision of the whole operation with guides and trained
local staff. 4. The members will contribute to the well being and continuing training of
the local staff. 5. The members will operate a clean mountain policy, and will adhere to
the UIAA Environmental Objectives And Guidelines. The formation of IGO-8000 will allow the
public to choose a commercial expedition in the confidence that they have selected an
organization of the highest standard.
EverestNews.com asked Eric Simonson to tell us more about the
EverestNews.com asked Eric Simonson to tell us about the
IGO 8000 is a group of guide services who do 8000 meter
expeditions that are trying to educate the public and work with the governments of
Himalayan countries to set basic standards for high altitude guiding. The
IFMGA (International Guide Organization, of which the American AMGA is now a member) has
also set up a committee to make recommendations for high altitude guiding.
Even though we are competitors, most of these IGO 8000 guide
services have respect for each other. We work together when we are on the mountain,
just like the guide services on Mt. McKinley have worked together on that mountain, even
though they are also competitors.
The rational is that there are some guide services (in
particular European) who take people on these high altitude climbs and just turn them
loose on the mountain with little or no backup. The same is also true for a number
of Nepalese trekking agencies, who are now getting into the act. The reputable
companies are trying to protect their reputations from these cut rate companies.
The big problem is that people don't understand the
difference between a guided expedition and a commercial expedition.
I've organized a dozen guided 8000 meter expeditions
now. For example, when I do a trip to Cho Oyu (I've had four expeditions, all
successful, nearly 40 persons to the summit) I charge $15,000 per person. For that
money the team gets expert guides, great Sherpas, oxygen, fixed rope, all the camps (I
keep a Base Camp in place, in case people need to go down), radios, sat
own jeep at Base Camp in case of emergency, a realistic time table with sufficient
acclimatization and time for a second summit shot...it goes on and on.
Compare this to some of the guide services that offer the
same trip for half the price. These generally fall into the category
I've seen it every time we've been there. They
basically turn everybody loose on the hill with little or no organization, logistics, or
leadership. Often they are trying to do the climb on a very short timetable. I
had a German guy die in my Gamow Bag in '96 when I was there. All his "team
mates" were up climbing and couldn't be bothered to come down to help him. We
had a Spanish guy last year on another one of these trips whose hands were terribly frost
bit and whose team members had abandoned him. Our guys got him. On another
trip we did there was another German guide service who didn't even know that one of their
members didn't make it back to high camp. He spent the night in a crevasse a hundred
yards from the tents and nobody even bothered to look for him. On another trip an
Austrian was near death at Base Camp. His team had no oxygen, no jeep, no Gamow
bag. We saved his life. I could go on and on. It happens
constantly now on the more popular climbs. Every time we go over there we see groups
that are just out of control.
It seems to me that many of the people on the
"commercial expedition" should really be on a "guided expedition", but
they aren't because of their egos.
Personally, I say caveat emptor...let the buyer
beware. People should be able to do anything they want, and that includes killing
themselves in the high mountains. I am anti regulation, and that includes most of
what's going on here. People should be responsible for themselves. Yet, it
does make sense to try to educate people...
People are such suckers. Just because they read "Into
Thin Air", everybody thinks they are an expert now!
Its sexy to climb alpine style and everybody wants to make a
name for themselves. People don't want to be told that they need a guide and oxygen
and Sherpas to be able to climb safely up high. So they sign up for the cut rate
program because they want to think that they can climb an 8000 meter peak alpine style
with no support.
I really liked Mark Twight's article in the recent Climbing
Magazine (#178) where he was talking about the polarization between sport ice / mixed
climbers and real alpinism. To survive in the high altitude game you need to be
smart and you got to take small steps to gain experience. People are impatient
to get the high altitude experience they need to be safe. They do McKinley, and then
they want to do Cho Oyu alpine style. Cho Oyu may not be too tough, but it is nearly
27,000 feet high, and that is pretty darn high. It is easy to get screwed up and if
that happens you need to be willing and able to get down fast. Otherwise you are
How do you gain a good mountain sense? It takes
spending time in the mountains, in good and bad weather, summer and winter. Climb on
snow and glaciers, rock and ice. Learn how to place pro and use a map and
compass. Ski. Climb, hike, get your butt kicked. Turn around and go
down. Do it again. Learn how to function without all the crap in your
pack. Study the terrain and the weather. Be a student again and again.
Be strong enough inside to listen to your inner voice talking. If your climbing
partners aren't safe, get different partners. Set your sights on the long
haul. Have fun and be careful!
International Mountain Guides
EverestNews.com then submitted Questions to Eric on this new
Eric Simonson e-mail reply to Everest News:
Let me take a stab at this.
1.) What is the IGO 8000?
A voluntary association of guide services
that organize climbs to 8000 meter peaks. I see this whole thing as a "trade
organization". On that basis, I think it is good. The moment it starts to
smell like a "trade union", I'm out.
2.) What does (or will) the IGO-8000 do?
Provide some very basic standards for guided
and commercial expeditions. I think it is KEY to note that all the guide services in
IGO 8000 are very different, and they each offer very different types of trips at very
different price ranges. Hopefully IGO 8000 will encourage disclosure of what a trip
does and does not include, so that the public can make informed choices.
3.) What benefits are there in joining the
For a guide service, there might be some
benefit being associated with other guide services. Maybe some marketing advantage,
though, as I said, most of the "players" are in now, and we all compete
anyway. Otherwise, I doubt if there is all that much advantage to it.
4.) Is the IGO 8000 open for other guides to
join or by invitation only?
Right now, most all of the
"players" are members. I don't know anybody that has been left out. If
someone wanted to join, I think it would be up to them to contact the organization and
introduce themselves. They would have to agree to follow the recommendations of the
5.) The UIAA
recommended Code of Practice is listed below. Many could argue and we are sure
you agree, that many climbers and guides do not comply FULLY with this UIAA
code. Why should the public believe guides and expeditions will comply with the
IGO-8000 code? And why does the IGO 8000 feel there is a need for more
than the UIAA code below?
They shouldn't !!! Caveat
Emptor. They should take it upon themselves to do research, talk to past trip
participants, and educate themselves about what they are going to do. Otherwise,
they are suckers!
I can tell you right now that just about
every ________ (expletive deleted) expedition that I have seen in the Himalayas has had
UIAGM / IFMGA guides associated with it. There is certainly NO correlation between
credentials and final product.
If nothing else, IGO 8000 will be a benefit
to the public because it will make everyone aware that every guide service is different.
If people are better educated, they ask better questions. This is to the advantage
of guide services that have nothing to hide. I want people to ask me questions. That was
the one good thing about "Into Thin Air"...now my clients are asking better
6.) Can climbers be guided above 8000m, '96 as an example?
Yes! There is always risk, however, and things can and
do go wrong sometimes. If you want a guarantee, take up a different sport. First
off, I think there is a big difference between Cho Oyu and Everest!! We can and do
guide very successfully on Cho Oyu. On Everest, I have not had such good luck.
It is not that the clients haven't been good enough. We have had several who were
more than ready to go to the top (including Jim Findley this spring...he made it to the
First Step...28,000', but was turned back by marginal weather). High on Everest you do
need to be able to function on your own...but it sure doesn't hurt having someone with you
to help. You also have to be lucky with everything...your condition, your partners
condition, the route, the weather...it all has to click. There is no
justice. Just because you are the strongest or most experienced climber on your team
doesn't guarantee anything. History shows that it is possible for people with limited
experience to get lucky, but I really recommend that people interested in Everest should
consider a smaller 8000 meter peak first. As they say, "it all gets
used" (the cumulative experiences).
They also point out that if you need a guide then you
shouldn't be on the mountain in the first place.
I think this is very elitist. Last year I had a terrific
client named Leslie Buckland, who was 68 years old. Though he had summitted McKinley
and Vinson, and climbed for 40 years, Leslie knew he needed to be very lucky to get to the
top of Everest. He had been thinking about Everest for 50 years and wanted to try. Life is
short, and this was a dream of his. There was no way he would be able to climb by
himself, but with me and Greg Wilson as partners, he was able to make it to 24,000 feet
safely. At that point, he decided he had gone as far as he could, and decided to go down.
He did a great job and was really happy. I was so proud to be able to guide him on this
climb, even though we didn't make the top. Right on, Leslie!
They argue a legitimate place for well organized guideless
(but not leaderless) expeditions who cater at a more reasonable cost for experienced
climbers. What are your views - is there a place for both types of commercial expeditions?
Absolutely! My only complaint is that a lot of these
climbs are misrepresented to would be climbers who don't realize the level of support that
they need. They WANT TO THINK that they are better than they really are (everyone
wants to be Reinhold Messner). It is easy to sell them on a program that strokes
their egos, but doesn't provide the support and backup they need. Then they get into
trouble and have nobody to help them.
International Mountain Guides