Kathmandu — A South African caught attempting to climb Mount Everest without having an $11,000 permit said on Thursday that he couldn’t afford the hefty fee but had always planned to turn himself in and serve jail time as punishment.
Ryan Sean Davy was arrested on Tuesday after handing himself into authorities in Kathmandu, a week after he was found hiding in a cave near Everest base camp without a permit. He told AFP at a police detention centre that he knew he would have to turn himself in eventually — and likely face jail time — because he wanted to release a film and book about his Everest adventure. "I realised that I would have to turn myself in to make it all legal, do the jail time because I can’t afford the permit," said the 43-year-old, who now faces a $22,000 fine.
Davy, who has no prior mountaineering experience, was attempting to scale the world’s highest peak alone and with limited equipment — and hoped to save the lives of other climbers along the way. Before he was caught, he had managed to climb as high as camp one at an altitude of 6,000m, despite not having all the proper equipment.
To get there he had to cross the treacherous Khumbu Icefall, a huge stretch of glacier containing deep crevasses that must be crossed by ladder. "I had some of the gear, not all of it, so there were some really interesting, scary parts," he said.
Davy recently hit a low point in his life after ploughing all his savings into two feature films that never got off the ground, but felt he could pick himself up if he was able to help someone else. "I just really wanted to find some sort of fulfilment by helping somebody, whatever the consequence was," he said, sitting in a small office at a police station in Kathmandu wearing a green T-shirt, board-shorts and flip-flops. "I couldn’t figure out what to do and then I realised if there’s one place in the world where there’s a guarantee that I could help people, then that’s Mount Everest."
Davy said he was motivated by the controversial death of British mountaineer David Sharp near the summit of Everest in 2006. Sharp’s death sparked a heated debate within the climbing community because a number of climbers passed him during their ascent to the summit but did not stop to help. "I’d learned about the David Sharp scenario, where a lot of the climbers got summit fever and a lot of the climbers walked right past a dying man. So I was worried maybe the same thing would happen," Davy said.
Once he reached the summit, Davy said he had planned to cross to the Tibet side of the mountain — a move that would have landed him in trouble with the Chinese authorities as well. "I wanted to traverse, actually. I know that’s illegal," Davy said. "By traversing I could have been able to help people on the north side because a lot of people struggle on the steps, so if there were any potential fatalities, I was hoping I could be of service."
Davy — who is due to appear in court on Sunday — could face up to four years in prison if he cannot pay the hefty fine, director of the tourism department Dinesh Bhattarai told AFP. In addition to a $22,000 fine for climbing Everest without permission, Davy could be hit with another $1,500 fee for partially scaling Pumori and Lobuche, two neighbouring mountains, Bhattarai said.
The film-maker is also facing charges under Nepal’s strict public order laws for swearing at officials from the tourism department during questioning — allegations Davy denies.
Johannesburg-born Davy moved to Aspen, Colorado six months ago to begin preparing for his Everest bid, living in a van because he was short on cash: "For the last six months prior to my Everest expedition I just focused all my attention on learning how to climb, learning how to use the equipment. I know that I could have ended up in trouble, but I was really hoping that nobody would have had to come to my aid because I didn’t want to risk anybody else’s life. My only real regret is that I was caught before I was able to do any good."