Recently there has been a discussion about raising the permit fee to climb Denali and Foraker from the current $200 USD to up to $1200 USD with a somewhat final suggestion resting around the sum of $500 USD per climber. This decision sparked quite a lively debate on the forums, from the Alpinist Magazine website to Facebook and other forums.
Suggestions thrown in were from differentiated taxation to ditching the tax all together as well as requiring certification in order to be able to practice mountaineering.
I count myself lucky for having climbed Denali this year while my budget could still accommodate it. My take on this topic however is taking a rather broader view rather than Denali which I see as a symptom.
Climbers are of different abilities and financial standing. ‘Technical’ climbers are seldom in excess of cash while CEOs in for a thrilling experience won’t even notice the 300$ or 700$ difference. Yet both categories are in “for the experience” and differentiated taxation is immoral.
Also, as Mark Westman (NPS Ranger and highly regarded local climber) pointed out, nearly all climbers heading for a tech climb on Denali acclimatize (i.e. take their time) on WB and while fairly they are not double taxed to climb Denali twice, their WB climb is taxed.
As a PADI DM i can state that applying a similar certification system as in scuba diving (as a comment on FB suggested) is both unrealistic and philosophically wrong with regards to climbing (unless we are talking about private, indoor venues.) May that happen, will over sterilize an already “sanitized” endeavour the climbing started to become in the last decade.
One cost AND impact-reducing alternative is capping the number of climbers allowed on the WB. Over 1500 climbers in a span of 2 months on such a limited area of the mountain has a tremendous environmental impact and obviously there are costs associate with it.
Insofar as rescue costs are involved there are two models one can look at: the Swiss and the French. One insurance funded the other publicly funded. And while on this topic, the Mont Blanc range receives a lager all year round number of visitors, rescue-related incidents and environmental impact yet manages to be permit-free. Maybe there is something the NPS should look into.
I for one dislike the idea of paying access fees on mountains, regardless of continent. I can see the reasons behind some taxes and no reason behind others. I can accept some services provided and I do not like to be offered (i.e. forced to receive) services i do not need.
Unfortunately the growth of the outdoor industry (from guiding to equipment manufacturers) cannot happen without the growth of the base of climbers which is directly proportionate with the environmental impact. Rather than going for the easy option of tax raising, more complex indeed, but more meaningful methods to offset this could be researched. Rather than debating punctual tax raises the community at large should self regulate and have a meaningful dialogue on impact (globally). Then such measures will not be necessary and hopefully my children (if i ever have any) will have have the same chance as me to climb, respectful and unregulated in a pristine, adventure offering environment as i had the opportunity when I was a kid.