A few teams are climbing this summer, including in Pakistan. However, many of the world’s best guides are simply saying it too dangerous, primarily to the locals who might become infected with COVID-19 from visitors. It appears the financial incentives are trumping health considerations.
Felix Berg’s SummitClimb.de company has three German members plus Pakastani Mirza Ali attempting two unclimbed 6,000-meter peaks in the Shimshal Valley, a 75km long side valley of the Hunza Valley.
In the summer season 2020 we are the first foreign visitors in Gilgit-Baltistan. It is the first mountain expedition in Pakistan since the coronavirus lockdowns. Presumably this makes our expedition the first expedition for high altitude mountaineering worldwide in the summer 2020. In view of the current situation, we are taking precautions: All participants have been tested for Covid-19, wear masks and keep their distance along the trip to the base camp, and we also provide hygiene articles for the accompanying team. Some small restrictions and changes in personal behaviour allow us to enjoy the freedom of exploration in the mountains of the Karakorum.
I asked him if there were any quarantine requirements, and he said no, but their temperature was taken in Islamabad upon arrival. He believes they are the only foreign team in Pakistan this summer. You can follow them on their blog.
Meanwhile, an all Pakastani team led by Sa’ad Mohamed will attempt Rakhiot Peak, 7,070-meters, part of the Nanga Parbat massif.
On 2 June 2020, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced the reopening of the tourism industry and allowed all overseas Pakistanis to return home and self-quarantine. With the tax revenue down by 30% and a drastic shortfall in foreign remittances, the economy was his top priority. He was quoted, “We are opening tourism because these three to four months are important for the people associated with tourism. Otherwise, more joblessness will occur at these places.”
Nepal is still an open question. They announced opening the Kathmandu airport for international travel several times but then delay the date. The latest has gone from August 17, 2020, to September 1. Nepal continues to see an increase in virus cases and deaths. On August 12, 2020, eight deaths from coronavirus-infection were reported, the highest number of fatalities reported in a single day.
Local operators were hoping the virus would relent in time for the autumn trekking and climbing seasons. A third of the annual 1.2 million visitors arrive between September and November. Several high profile foreign and local guides are still taking deposits for climbs on Everest, Manaslu, Ama Dablam, and other peaks.
However, on August 6, Minga G of Imagine Nepal canceled all his Autumn climbs. He posted on Facebook:
The Nepal government ended a three months lock-down without proper planning and resulted in a rapid increase of corona cases in Nepal. The international airport will be opened from 17th August 2020 but there is no guideline prepared yet. We are still not sure if it is obligatory to stay 14 days quarantine or not. As per the experts and doctors, Nepal will see the worst case of virus in a few weeks. Considering what the experts said, we planned to cancel all our upcoming expeditions till the situation improves in Nepal. Till then stay safe.
Ministry of Tourism spokesperson Mira Acharya told me there is still no resolution if visitors will have to quarantine for a week or even two upon arrival. And she added, “Our government has released a press note there is mentioned that Trekking and Mountaineering will be open from 30th July 2020.”
As usual, the media is reporting all is well with Nepal’s mountaineering industry with headlines like “Nepal to Reopen Everest to Climbers Despite Coronavirus Case Rise”
Around the World
Climbing is happening in the Swiss, French, and Italian Alps as well as in New Zealand and parts of Australia. Also, on Mt. Rainier and Kilimanjaro but Cotopaxi remains closed as do the peaks in Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, and Argentina. I can tell you from personal experience that the Colorado 14,000-foot peaks are very crowded this summer.
It remains to be seen if Vinson Massif and Aconcagua will open for the traditional winter climbing season.
Not So Fast
Guy Cotter of Adventure Consultants had scathing comments for the industry in his latest newsletter titled, “The Mountains Will Always Be There” Well worth a complete read but here are the money quotes:
… But even more important than the health of a few trekkers and climbers who are laser-focused on achieving their goals is the impact of infecting the local population. We who are in the business of operating trekking and expedition activities are regularly purporting our social responsibility in our marketing, yet I am seeing some of these same operators stating they are running trips in Nepal this post-monsoon season in addition to other mountain destinations around the globe. Yes, we are all suffering due to the loss of income and the potential collapse of our businesses, but at what cost would we sacrifice others by introducing the virus to the Khumbu and other regions?
A look on the internet at who is stating they are operating this season will reveal who they are. You will be surprised that some of them are so tone-deaf to what is going which is in contrast to the slick image they have built for themselves through their PR companies and marketing gurus. Take note, because you can be certain that these same operators have no scruples when it comes to any other order of business in which they participate. I’m not one to openly criticise others in my industry to promote our own qualities, but in this situation, we go beyond fiscal benefits and market share. It comes down to who you are as a person and who you are prepared to put at risk for your own reward.
If you are planning on going to Nepal (or any climb) this year, triple-check that:
- Will be allowed to enter your destination country from your home country?
- What are the specific health requirements?
- What are the re-patriation plans if you get sick?
- Will your travel insurance cover your evacuation back home?
- Are there enough critical care beds available in the country?
- What evidence do you have that your hotel, restaurants, transportation, and guide services will follow common-sense protocols?
- Don’t send a deposit without a written guarantee of a 100% refund policy and that the country is officially open. Get it in writing as part of your contract.
This is truly an environment where one must make reasonable decisions as to not only your health but the health of those around you, around the world.
Finally, if you are looking to climb popular peaks with a guide in 2021, contact them now as spots are filling up fast.
Memories are Everything