Should I Go on a Guided or Non-Guided Expedition to Mount Everest?

How to Climb Mount Everest

Should you go on a guided or unguide expedition on Mount Everest? It depends on your climbing skills and how much cash you can pay. Photograph copyright Werner Van Steen/Getty Images

If you want to climb Mount Everest and stand for a few shining moments on the apex of the world, your first question is: How much does it cost to climb Mount Everest?

Should I Go on a Guided or Non-Guided Expedition?

A breath later, your second question is: Should I spend a lot of money and go on a guided expedition or should I go the cheaper route with a non-guided group? These are the two ways to climb Mount Everest for most prospective suitors and the financial and safety costs for each vary tremendously.

The Ultimate Goal

Mount Everest, the world's highest mountain, is the ultimate goal for many mountaineers who want to stand on its rarefied summit atop the roof of the world. For some, it is the completion of the Seven Summits, the highest points on the seven continents, while for others it is simply the completion of a lifelong dream.

Mt. Everest is Accessible to Many

Not that long ago, the summit of Mount Everest was reserved for true climbers who organized their expedition, raised the funds to travel and climb, applied for permits, and trained for their ultimate adventure. Now, however, Mount Everest is somewhat accessible to the masses and even to people that are non-climbers--as long as they can ante up the necessary cash to have a guide service shepherd them up the mountain.

Most Everest Climbers Train Beforehand

That, of course, is an oversimplification, because most Everest aspirants do train and do gain mountaineering experience by first climbing lower peaks like Denali, Aconcagua, and Mount Vinson. Some guide services will not take clients who have not done some climbing and at least attempted an 8,000-meter peak like Cho Oyu. As Alpine Ascents, one of the leading Everest guide services, says on their website: "We are looking for experienced climbers, for whom Everest is the next logical step in their climbing careers. Our team will be in top physical condition and ready to meet the extreme challenges Everest presents."

Most Climbers Go on Guided Expeditions

Most climbers, except for the elites, attempt to climb Mount Everest on a guided expedition. Since climbing alone is not a possibility, you need to earn or raise the money to join an expedition. Prices vary depending on the services offered by the guide services and those desired by the clients.

No-Frills Non-Guided Climbing Expeditions

There are basic no-frills, non-guided climbing expeditions, like those offered by Asian Trekking, to Mount Everest that only provide basic services to and from Base Camp and no personal support on the mountain itself. Sometimes a Sherpa is designated as a "guide" on the mountain, but all decisions are made by the paying climber, not by the Sherpa or a professional guide. These attempts by individuals are generally unsuccessful with a low rate of summit success, safety is compromised, and the risks of climbing Mount Everest are magnified. Statistics show a success rate of about 50% for non-guided climbers versus about 75% for guided climbers.

Non-Guided Ascents are Risky

Safety is as important as a success for non-guided climbers. Most accidents and fatalities on Mount Everest occur on the summit day on the upper slopes of the mountain, with most happening on the descent due to fatigue, disorientation, altitude-related illnesses, a late arrival on the summit, and lagging behind other climbers. Non-guided groups don't have the resources on the mountain to help a tired climber down, to make them turn around below the summit because it's too late in the day, and to make essential judgments that keep climbers alive. It's every man or woman for themselves up there in the Death Zone. There are many cases of non-guided climbers that were aided by professional guides and helped down to a lower elevation instead of dying beside the trail like others. Generally, a guided group is more likely to bring their clients back alive.

Non-Guided Climbers Still Pay Essential Costs

Another disadvantage for the non-guided climber is that despite the thought that they are saving big bucks, they are also shelling out money for a permit, liaison officer, visa, fees, fixed rope, waste deposit, travel, insurance, as well as climbing equipment, food, oxygen, and Sherpa support. Sharing both the fixed costs as well as transportation costs among more climbers allows the guided climber to save on many of the essential expenses.

Most Climbers Join Guided Expeditions

Most Everest climbers opt for a guided ascent on an expedition led by professional guides with Sherpa back-ups. Yes, it costs a lot more money but statistics show there is a greater chance of success. Most guided teams have several experienced western guides and a strong group of support Sherpas. The number of guides depends on the size of the team, but most teams have a guide for every three climbers. The client success rate is higher on guided expeditions than non-guided groups. Read Why to Join a Guided Expedition-How to Climb Mount Everest for more information.