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Jun 022020
 
Denali West Buttress Ridge

With our Virtual Everest 2020 – Support the Climbing Sherpas fictional story now over (click the link to read it), it’s time to check on climbing for the rest of 2020. Spoiler alert, it doesn’t look good.

China

China closed all of its mountains to foreigners on March 11, 2020. They made an exception for Chinese and Tibetans who spent 14-days quarantined in Lhasa.

There were 51 summits this spring, all Northside. On May 26, 2020, the eight-person Tibetan rope fixing team of Dorjee Tsering, Tenzing Norbu, Dunpa, Tashi Gombu, Tsering Norbu, and Dorjee were the first to reach the summit. Then on May 27, eight members of the Chinese survey team summitted followed the next day by 14 Chinese nationals supported by 21 Tibetans. May 26 matched the latest summit date since 1971. This year the dealy was due to deep snow.

The new altitude measurement is expected in a few months from the Chinese survey team. Peak 15 has been measured multiple times:

  • 1802-1852 – Great Trigonometric Survey: 29,002-feet/8,839.8-meters or 8840m
  • 1849/50 – Remeasurement using optical techniques: 29,141-feet/8882-meters
  • 1955 – Survey of India Service: 29,029-feet/8,848-meters (snow cap)
  • 1975 – Chinese measurement of 29,029.30-feet/8848.13-meters (snow cap)
  • 1999 – American Everest Expedition (Bradford Washburn): 29,035-feet/8850-meters (rock head; snow/ice elevation 3-feet/1-m higher)
  • 2005 – Chinese Academy of Sciences: 29,017.16-feet/8,844.43 meters (rock head)
  • 2010 – Nepal and China agreed on 29,029-feet/8,848 (snow cap with rock head at 29015.9-feet/8,844-meters)
  • 2015 – Gorkha Earthquake is thought to have reduced the elevation by 1-inch/2.54 centimeter
  • 2019 – Nepal remeasures, including reaching the summit: no results published
  • 2020 – China survey team is currently taking measurements.

Scientists estimate Everest increases in elevation between 0.5-inch to 3-inches/1.27-cm – 7.6-cm each year. This growth comes from the Indian continental plate tunneling underneath Asia’s. The 2015 earthquake is anticipated to have changed the altitude.

Also, the Chinese took advantage of the closure to foreigners to remove a lot of trash from their three 8000ers. This article noted the cleaning activity started on April 20, and in the three weeks, 3.78 tons of trash was collected on Everest’s Northside, 1.83 tons on Cho Oyu, and 0.425 tons on Shishapangma.

As of this post, June 2, 2020, China had 84,154 confirmed cases with 4,638 deaths. The mortality ratio per 100,000 population is 0.33, no change, and the number of total cases is slightly up from 84,010 on May 11, 2011.

Nepal

Nepal closed all of their climbing and trekking plus other adventure tourism (rafting, safaris, etc.) on March 13, 2020. The entire country is under a lockdown that is scheduled to be lifted June 14, but it has been extended several times. There are no international flights until June 30. Chances of climbing resuming in the post-monsoon season remain low. I would hesitate to send any deposit money over until the situation is very clear. Most of the cases are in Districts well away from the mountains. The Khumbu has one reported case, and that person recovered.

As of this post, June 2, 2020, Nepal had 1,811 confirmed cases with eight deaths. The mortality ratio per 100,000 population is 0.03, an increase from 0, but the number of total cases is up 13X from 134 on May 11, 2011.

Pakistan

I’ve been told by many operators outside of Pakistan that they have canceled their summer expeditions to peaks, including K2, Broad Peak, the Gasherbrums, and other treks in the Northern Terrorties. A few of the Pakistani operators continue to have hope that they can delay their trips and still run them. Similar to Nepal, I would be very cautious.

As of this post, June 2, 2020, Pakistan had 72,460 confirmed cases with 1,543 deaths. The mortality ratio per 100,000 population is 0.73, over double the 0.31, with the number of total cases over 2X from 30,941 on May 11, 2011.

Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru

Case and deaths in South America have exploded since my last report on May 11, 2020. There is a wide variety of responses from denial to total lockdowns. It now appears that most South American countries have serious outbreaks, and it is especially bad in Ecuador and Brazil. All the nations are on lockdown. All climbing is currently closed.

As of this post, June 2, 2020:

  • Argentina had 17,415 confirmed cases, with 556 deaths. The mortality ratio per 100,000 population is 1.25, double the 0.69, with the number of total cases over 34X from 6,034 on May 11, 2011.
  • Bolivia had 10,531 confirmed cases, with 343 deaths. The mortality ratio per 100,000 population is 3.02, triple the 1.04 with the number of total cases over 24X from 2,556 on May 11, 2011.
  • Brazil had 526,447 confirmed cases, with 29,937 deaths. The mortality ratio per 100,000 population is 14.29. It has the fourth-highest number of case worldwide and has exploded
  • Chili had 105,158 confirmed cases with 1,113 deaths. The mortality ratio per 100,000 population is 5.94.
  • Ecuador had 39,098 confirmed cases, with 3,358 deaths. The mortality ratio per 100,000 population is 19.66, a significant increase the 12.45 with the number of total cases over 15X from 6,034 on May 11, 2011.
  • Peru had 170,039 confirmed cases, with 4,634 deaths. The mortality ratio per 100,000 population is 14.49, almost triple the 5.91 with the number of total cases over 39X from 67,307 on May 11, 2011.

United States

Many of the U.S. National Parks are slowly opening to reduced capacities and social distancing rules. In some parks, for example, Rocky Mountain National Park reservations will be required to enter beginning June 4, and a timed entry permit or camping reservation will be required to enter in a private vehicle between the hours of 6 a.m. and 5 p.m.

As for popular climbing destinations, the National Park Service closed Denali and Foraker in Alaska for 2020. Mt. Rainier is on a rolling two-week decision widow and is currently closed expected to open above 10,500-feet on June 19.

As of this post, June 2, 2020, the U.S. had 1,811,360 confirmed cases with 105,165 deaths. The mortality ratio per 100,000 population is 32.14, up from 24.31, with the number of total cases has increased from 1,370,000 on May 11, 2011. The US has the highest number of cases and deaths in the world and is still dramatically increasing

Globally

Belgium has the highest mortality ratio per 100,000 population at 83.05. The UK is next at 58.85. Russia has the third most cases at 423,447 and is still increasing. Many African counties – Angola, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, have low ratios plus total cases and deaths reported.

Seven Summits Status and Outlook

The highest mountain on each continent serves as goals for many climbers, plus the usual training peaks for Everest or K2. The virus is behaving differently depending on altitude, as previously noted, population density, transportation modes (cars vs. trains/subways, etc.), social habits, and national leadership. So look carefully at the region you might consider and not take the entire country numbers as representative of where your mountain is located. These are my headlines on these popular peaks:

  • NOTE: Except where noted, international air travel is not allowed into any of these countries.
  • Note: Most of the “major” guide companies outside of the peak’s country have canceled their schedule for 2020.
  • NOTE: Most local guide companies are still accepting deposits and saying their trips will run.
  • NOTE: The US State Department has advised against all international travel.

Everest (Northern Nepal/Southern Tibet/China) – Unlikely for Nepal to reopen Everest in Autumn or Cho Oyu/Shishapangma in China. Nepal has seen a recent dramatic increase in new cases suggesting a fast recovery will not occur.

Aconcagua (Far Western Argentina) – Unlikely. Argentina is on indefinite lockdown with new cases rapidly increasing, 34X since May 11. Perhaps by January 2021

Denali (Alaska)- Closed for 2020 season by National Park Service. Air travel to the US banned from China, Europe, UK, and Brazil.

Kilimanjaro (Tanzania, Africa) – Tanzanian President John Magufuli is downplaying it while the hospitals are reportedly overwhelmed. Tour operators are still running trips but with social distancing techniques. International air travel not available effective April 11, 2020. UPDATE June 10, 2020 – It appears Kili will be opening. Madison Mountaineering sent an email announcing two climbs in August, “Tanzania has opened the Kilimanjaro season, international flights have resumed and they are no longer requiring a 14-day quarantine for arriving passengers.”

Elbrus (Southeast Russia): Rapid increase in new cases in Russia. Local guides accepting deposits.

Vinson (Antarctica): Polar travelers tell me the logistics company, Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions LLC (ALE), has not made a decision, nor has there been an official decision from the members of the 12 members countries of the Antarctic Treaty who control the continent. The first trip is scheduled for December 7, 2020. The critical link will be air-travel via Chili. Most Vinson climbers transit through Punta Arenas, and Chili has curfew, lockdowns, and quarantines currently in force. However, December is six-months away, and the situation may improve unless there is a second wave. If it were me (and I have no plans), I’d plan on climbing Vinson in late 2021.

Carstensz Pyramid (West Papua, New Guinea): Fears of political and social unrest had already caused many foreigner operators to cancel 2020. Only eight cases reported with no deaths in Papua, New Guinea but 436 in West Papua. Travel is banned from Asian countries and they closed its border with Indonesia.

Kosciuszko (Australia): New cases are dramatically lower than at the peak in mid-March and restrictions are easing but a 2nd wave is feared in late 2020.  International air travelers not allowed.

Interestingly, there appear to be fewer COVID-19 in high-altitude cities. Researchers using epidemiological data from Bolivia, Ecuador, and Tibet found fewer per-capita cases in people living above 3,000m/9842ft. Causality is unclear but perhaps due to a higher tolerance to hypoxia developed by years of living in a low-oxygen density environment. See this article for more details. 

Summary

I continue to assume no major expeditions for 2020 even if there is a significant breakthrough in the areas of testing, antibody testing, and a vaccine. Experts now expect to limited Phase 2/3 human clinical trials for a vaccine starting in the Autumn, and the best-case scenario for a vaccine is still 2021. Even then, the manufacturing challenges plus the distribution of billions of doses are significant. Our planet has 7.8 billion people.

As of this post, June 2, 2020, worldwide, there are 4,130,000 confirmed cases with 283,000 deaths.

Climb On!
Alan
Memories are Everything

**All COVD-19 stats from Johns Hopkins University

  One Response to “Fresh Update on Climbing Around the World”

  1.  

    Thanks Alan. Always helpful info.
    John

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