8000 Meter Peaks

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 Press Release from the IGO-8000     10/98

IGO-8000 International Guiding Operators - 8000

C/- B.P.12 74400 Les Praz Chamonix FRANCE


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 guides alike.

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 important areas;

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 IGO-8000:

EverestNews.com asked Eric Simonson to tell us about the IGO-8000:

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 coms, their 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 "commercial expedition".

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 toast!

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!

Eric Simonson

International Mountain Guides

Ashford, WA

EverestNews.com then submitted Questions to Eric on this new development.

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 IGO 8000?

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 organization.

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 questions!!

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. 

Eric Simonson

International Mountain Guides

Ashford, WA 


Eric Simonson, veteran expedition leader, Everest Summiter, author and motivational speaker. To book Eric e-mail web@everestnews2004.com

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