Dear Mountain Lovers,
A lot has been said about the Helicopter Rescue Scam in Nepal. Hundreds of media coverage, thousands of pages of reports, allegations, counter-allegations, you name it, we have all seen it. We needn’t concern ourselves with that.
The only thing we are going to concern ourselves with today are simple steps a trekker can take to stay clear of this scam.
Not all Trekking Companies are involved in the scam.
Actually, we are pretty sure that for every company involved in the scam, there are five honest and hardworking trekking companies in Nepal. You just need to know how to find the good ones.
While looking for reputable trekking companies, we strongly advise to steer clear from online booking platforms. Ways of gaming ratings on these systems is an open secret in Thamel. However, Kimkim is an important exception to this rule as they are very selective about the local companies they work with.
A better idea is to stick to good old references. Reach out to people who have been to Nepal before and who you can trust. Alternately, ask reputed bloggers like David Ways of The Longest Way Home, Alan Arnette, or Mark Horrell for reference. Still another way to turn the pages of the good old guidebooks. Trekking in Nepal by Lonely Planet and books by Trailblazer series might come in handy for this. Still another place is the Great Himalaya Trails website which has a limited list of companies that they have screened.
You can of course always book through a travel agent outside Nepal and most of these outfits work with reputed operators in Nepal.
Some Insurance Companies are easier to Scam than others.
The best Insurance Companies are the ones that provide solid ground support, do not accept pay first and claim later arrangements, and require the trekking company/trekker to call the insurance company before scheduling a rescue helicopter.
The case of solid ground support is pretty obvious as having a trained medical personnel in a rescue helicopter and fast reaction times when it comes to rescue flights are very important.
The pay first and claim later arrangement usually requires a sick trekker to pay for the helicopter first and then settle the payment with the insurance companies later. This puts trekkers at unnecessary risk and not a lot of insurance companies accept this kind of arrangement.
The most important differentiator however has to be the requirement that the responsible party at least call the insurance company before calling in a rescue flight. While a case can be made that in a life and death situation, it might increase lag time. However, let us face it, one call doesn’t really make that much of a difference and many a times, the insurance company might actually arrange for a rescue flight itself.
While there are a lot of great insurance companies, Global Rescue simply stands out when it comes to providing insurance and coordinating rescue services in Nepal.
Run your own trek. Period.
Running your trek yourself not only decreases your chance of getting sick, but also makes it impossible for anyone to scam you.
Actually a 2008 research paper published in the Journal of Travel Medicine states that “[i]n the Everest area, 94% of evacuated patients were trekking with a group” and that “a rigid ascent schedule and peer pressure to continue the trek despite fatigue or illness…might be another factor increasing the risk seen in the Everest region.”
Actually it is really easy to make all your booking on your own. Whether you are looking to book lodges, guides, porters or guides, most of the services are actually just a click away.
Full Disclosure: HoneyGuide is one such company that provides such booking option to trekkers.
Realize the Mountains are Tough. Plan accordingly!
It requires a certain amount of effort to walk to Everest Base Camp. Actually, it is higher than the highest point in Europe. And it is definitely not as easy as scrolling through your Instagram feed.
Anybody who claims the Everest Base Camp Trek can be done in 10 days is a scammer and anyone who believes it is simply asking for trouble.
Make sure that above 2,500 meters you stay an extra night for every 1,000 meters of climb. That is why an extra day at Namche Bazaar, Dingboche and Pheriche is extremely important. Similarly on the Gokyo Trek, make sure to stay an extra night at Machhermo and Namche Bazaar. Also, during the rest day make sure to stay active or better still take a trip to a higher altitude and come back to sleep. Climb High. Sleep Low.
Any trek that does not have such rest days are dangerous and suspect.
It is also extremely important to understand Acute Mountain Sickness and what to do about it. You can read more about it here.
However, the main point is that you should not ascend with any sign of Altitude Illness. If the symptoms get worse, descent must be the first option. Chances are you will be perfectly fine if you descend by even 500 meters. You can always go back up once your feel better. This not only saves your vacation, but also avoids the unnecessary helicopter rescue.
Just because trek is not Cheap, doesn’t make it Safe.
It is true that the hyper-competitive adventure market in Nepal is the major reason why helicopter rescue scams started. Hence, cheap treks are suspect. However, it is a no-brainer that if a journalist or a trekker can figure this out, the savvy scammers do not understand this. Hence, they will make sure that their trek is not seen as really cheap.
And actually that is the case with a lot of companies that have been known to be involved in the rescue scam.
Hence, price is not necessarily a good indicator of whether a company is reliable.
If you think we have missed anything, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will incorporate it in the article.
To the Mountains!!