Covid brings fear to Everest

Cordoned off area at Everest base camp, with a sign that reads "Where

The Everest base camp, on its southern slope or in Nepal, is a bubble… of fear. There are fears of the coronavirus and, on the rebound, a possible forced evacuation of the place decreed by the local government, which would mean the cancellation of the season. The authorities deny that there is an infectious outbreak in the base camp, at the foot of the coveted mountain, but several expedition members narrate a trickle of evacuations by helicopter of patients.

On April 15, the Norwegian Erlend Ness was the first to leave the place by air to be transferred to a hospital in Kathmandu, where it was confirmed that his respiratory problems had not so much to do with the altitude as with the positive result in covid- 19.

Since then, Polish mountaineer Pawel Michalski says that no less than 30 people have urgently followed in the Norwegian’s footsteps. And paranoia has settled in a base camp that gathers, according to official estimates, 1,500 people: 400 foreign mountaineers and more than a thousand mountain workers, cooks, liaison officers and porters. Of course, the vast majority are still in their thirteen, crossing their fingers to be able to climb, some, and work, the rest.

Individual tents and dining tents are scattered over the glacier moraine in a colorful ensemble about two kilometers long. At the foot of an 8,000-meter mountain, the downtime far exceeds the periods of activity. The wait after each acclimatization foray and in front of the windows of good weather used to be mitigated with a generous social life: a roaming from store to store, from food to food, coffee to coffee, board games, quiet walks … None of this happens now .

In the paroxysm of the anomalous, each expedition has fenced their space with ropes to prevent dangerous visits and the medical authorities present in the place have prohibited any social interaction between expeditions. It is the bubble within the bubble.

The German mountaineer David Goettler is one of the very few aspiring to climb Everest without the help of artificial oxygen. “I do not interact with anyone, I am alone all the time, either in the mountains or in my store,” he explains by phone. “I try to train away from base camp but the truth is that I still don’t know if I’m going to be able to climb, or what route I’m going to try. We are waiting ”, he acknowledges.

Goettler and the Catalan Kilian Jornet could try to climb the western ridge of the mountain, and even try to link with the Lhotse, the project that the Swiss Ueli Steck managed in 2017 before dying when he was acclimatizing in the neighboring Nuptse. But everything is up in the air and neither one nor the other have confirmed their intentions.

The incidence of the virus in Nepal has skyrocketed in recent weeks, as the country, bordering India, has received large numbers of neighboring tourists just as the pandemic has dramatically spiraled out of control. Kathmandu has strengthened and hardened security measures, closing its airport to both local and international flights, although the health situation is deteriorating to a halt and some voices even criticize the existence of huge amounts of bottled oxygen ready to be used by mountaineers. on Everest.

Many voices have criticized the laxity of these measures in the mountains, where in many cases respect for the protection indications are conspicuous by their absence: no masks, no safety distance. Fearing a mountain closure, the Sherpa workers in charge of equipping it work against the timer to fix all the rope needed and allow a first attempt for their clients. To speed up the process, all the fixed rope coils were placed by a helicopter in field 2, above the dangerous Khumbu waterfall.

In fact, local witnesses assure that several clients have also been deposited directly in Camp 2 in order not to expose themselves to the dangers of the Khumbu waterfall, where in 2014 16 Sherpas died buried by an avalanche of ice. To avoid the fatal queues registered in 2019 (11 climbers died) when in a single day 354 people reached the top (212 from the south side and the rest from the north), the government of Nepal has devised a system of shifts (depending on of the date of the extended permits) to be able to attack the top in different attacks in attention to the windows of good weather that may appear.

No one has explained, however, who and how will be in charge of controlling this initiative and they trust the understanding of the main agencies operating in the mountain. This spring, the local tourism ministry has confirmed the arrival of 15,000 mountain tourists, 10% of the usual. The closing of the season would mean a serious economic crisis for all the areas that live on foreign visitors.

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