Nepal will cut fees on Mount Everest to lure more mountaineers to the world's highest peak, even though it is already overcrowded during the peak season.
Hundreds of foreigners, each paying thousands of dollars, flock to the 8,850-metre Everest summit during the main climbing season from March to May.
Under existing rules, Nepal charges US$25,000 per climber as a licence fee, or royalty. But a group of seven people can secure a permit for US$70,000 - a practice officials say encourages climbers to form big groups.
Tourism official Tilakram Pandey said each climber would be charged US$11,000 from next year to end the practice.
"The change in royalty rates will discourage artificially formed groups, where the leader does not even know some of the members in him own team," Pandey said. "It will promote responsible and serious climbers."
He said the new rates would apply for the peak season on the Southeast Ridge, or South Col, route pioneered by New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa in 1953.
Permits for other routes and for the rest of the year, when the mountain is virtually deserted, will cost as little as US$2,500 to encourage off-season climbing.
But experts said most mountaineers would still favour the spring season, because of warmer weather and more daylight, and the standard route.
Fees for hundreds of smaller peaks have also been changed.
More than 4,000 people have climbed Mount Everest since the historic 1953 ascent. Nearly 250 have died on its slopes.
Climbing historian Elizabeth Hawley said Everest was "terribly crowded" in the peak season and allowing in those with little experience raised accident risks.