Lakpa Sherpa has climbed Everest seven times. But this 2021 season, marked by the Covid-19 epidemic, two cyclones that prevented mountaineers from attempting the climb, and the denial of the Nepalese authorities as to the risks of contamination, has been the most difficult of his career as a guide.
“This season has been very difficult. We were already working under pressure because of the Covid and then the (bad) weather betrayed us“, this expedition organizer told AFP.
Candidates for the ascent of highest peak in the world (8,848.86 meters above sea level) have flocked this year to the base camp, after the cancellation of the 2020 season due to the pandemic.
Nepal issued a record 408 ascent permits in 2021 and relaxed quarantine rules in hopes of attracting more climbers, but no specific plan has been prepared for test, isolate or control an outbreak of contamination.
9,000 daily cases were recorded in May
A few weeks after the opening of this 2021 season, a Norwegian mountaineer, Erlend Ness, had confirmed that he had felt bad at base camp and had tested positive in Kathmandu after being evacuated. Other cases of contamination have followed one another.
Despite everything, Lakpa Sherpa has decided to maintain the expeditions that his agency Pioneer Adventure has planned for 23 clients.
The narrow weather window for climbing Everest and other high Himalayan peaks under favorable conditions coincided with a particularly virulent second wave of Covid-19 in Nepal, where more than 9,000 daily cases have been recorded in May.
“Before, there were bouts of coughing, ordinary colds and the risks presented by avalanches and crevasses. But, this year, the danger lay in the fact, in the event of infection with Covid, of not being able to climb because (this disease) makes breathing difficult and causes fatigue.“, explains guide Mingma Dorji Sherpa.
Despite the precautions taken by the teams, cases of contamination have spread among mountaineers.
Dozens of them showing symptoms have been evacuated from base camp and at least two agencies have canceled shipments after members of their teams tested positive.
The two Icelandic mountaineers Sigurdur Sveinsson and Heimir Hallgrímsson for their part reached the summit despite contamination by Covid-19.
When they began to cough after arriving at an altitude of 7,000 meters, they suspected an infection with the coronavirus. But they continued their ascent to the top and it was on the descent that their symptoms worsened.
“In Camp 2, we were both very sick, with coughs, headaches and fatigue (…) We had to go down as quickly as possible“, they said Thursday. Both tested positive on their arrival at the base camp and isolated in their tents. The Nepalese authorities are not however refused to recognize the existence of cases of contamination on Everest.
Permits costing $ 11,000
Organizer Lukas Furtenbach, who was the first to cancel his shipment due to the outbreak of Covid-19, believes the Nepalese government should extend the validity of permits costing $ 11,000 that its customers have purchased to climb Everest.
“Nepal invited foreign expeditions to come and guaranteed us safety from the Covid (…) My clients did not feel safe at the base camp“, he said.
In the middle of the mountain, the Nepalese government was severely criticized for continuing to allow climbs.
“There are no excuses for the (government) ‘s blatant lies, denial and cover-up this season, mountaineering blogger Alan Arnette wrote on Friday.
“Do they understand that their actions can only undermine the credibility they need to manage their resources effectively?” He asked.
The cancellation of the 2020 season represented a huge shortfall for the economy of Nepal, a country heavily dependent on tourism, as well as for Nepalese guides and porters.
In addition, two cyclones that hit India in May severely limited access to the summit.
When the second cyclone hit Indian territory last week, it caused a massive snowstorm over Everest, burying the tents of the remaining candidates for the ascent.
The total number of climbers who have successfully reached the summit this year has not yet been announced, but the Tourism Ministry estimates they are around 400, up from 644 in 2019.
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