Now that we are solidly into May, about mid-season for spring Everest, let’s pause for a moment and take inventory of the situation. At the risk of giving readers whiplash, the bottom line for me is that things are looking better … considering.
Without a doubt, this may be the most challenging season in the history of Everest, perhaps topped only by the earthquake in 2015 and the extreme loss of life in 1996 and 2014. The overall situation has changed a bit in the last ten days with regards to the virus. Most teams are making excellent progress. I say this with all respect and acknowledgment to the tens of thousands suffering in nearby India and, of course, Nepal.
I, along with other people reporting on this season, have focused on the virus because, well, because it was the main storyline. And it’s real, and it’s devastating. As some of my regular readers know, I had the virus and had family spend weeks in the hospital. It’s real, it’s deadly, and having it at altitude is no joke. However, some teams remain unscathed through excellent discipline, well-thought-out protocols, and perhaps good luck. Others have not been so lucky.
Once it became clear that COVID was spreading throughout base camp, teams took action and slowed it a bit. I’m not trying to sugarcoat the situation, but in speaking directly to climbers and guides at base camp, the overall condition appears to be improving. Now hopefully, they can complete their climbs and return safely home given the deadly situation throughout Nepal.
There are several good news stories as we approach the finish line for this season. First, teams continue climbing. Some have already “tagged” Camp 3 at nearly 7,0000-meters. This is right on the traditional schedule of “normal” years. Second, the weather continues to be amazing and appears it will continue well into May, and third, I can confidently confirm that many teams have not had a single case of the virus. Let’s break these three points down.
Acclimatization on Schedule
The usual acclimatization schedule has teams making several “rotations” to the high camps in April into early May. 2021 is no different. What has been a bit unusual is that far fewer people are sleeping at Camp 3, nearly 7,000-meters. This was the usual formula for decades. Operators now take a more thoughtful schedule of sleeping at Camp 1 for more than one night and spending a few extra days at Camp 2 along with “active” rest days to jump-start the acclimatization process. Adding a sortie’ up the Lhotse Face to “tag” C3 induces the body to generate those extra red blood cells. Some feel sleeping at C3 has diminishing returns because it is a rough night with little sleep and virtually no rest that does more damage than good.
The next aspect of this season is the missing jet stream. This 150-200 mph breeze at 30,000-feet is virtually absent this year due to a persistent ridge of high pressure throughout that part of the world. This weather has made for excellent climbing conditions, albeit hard ice on the Lhotse Face, but at least it wasn’t in a gale. Who knows how long this will last, but if it stays, it will enable well over 600 people to spread out over multiple days, thus reducing the risk of a 2019 style line of climbers.
Again, I can confirm firsthand that several, if not many of the 44 teams on Everest haven’t had a single case. Good luck or good planning, probably a bit of both. I know of cases where well-intentioned individuals have become infected through no wrongdoing or poor judgment; it happens. I have no idea how I got infected since I was following all the rules to the letter. It happens. Of course, some teams have been lax in following protocols, allowing visitors, no masks, poor hygiene, and they have become infected in large ratios compared to others. But the good news is that teams are reacting quickly to isolate individuals and evacuate those showing symptoms to Kathmandu for treatment. In some cases, people are returning to base camp to continue their climb; however, I would go home if it was me!
Good News/Bad News
So with all of this, is Everest Base camp a horrible place with “everyone” sick? No. Is it a pristine place where everyone is healthy, happy, and ready to summit? No. I think we have to keep all of this in perspective. I have a good friend who just ended his climb, citing overall poor health, no virus. Another had a slight injury, so he chose to stop. These are the usual and expected incidents for 10-20% for the climbers each year. There is always attrition during a season, on any mountain. But for a two-month season with a base camp above 17,000-feet, Everest is especially susceptible. However, this is good news because there will be fewer climbers on the mountain when the summit pushes begin shortly.
Need for Transparency
If there is a reoccurring theme to this season, it’s the lack of transparency by operators and especially the Nepal government. The lack of news and the steady stream of denials in the face of clear evidence that the virus was at the base camp created an atmosphere of mistrust that led many, including myself, to search for the truth and found a deadly situation developing. I call on those at base camp and in Nepal to follow the lead of Mountain Trip with this type of post:
With all the COVID-19 information and misinformation floating around we thought it would be appropriate to make a statement that our Mountain Trip climbers and guides, or our Sherpa team, have had no confirmed cases of COVID. We have had two members flown to Kathmandu for other reasons that both tested COVID negative on their arrival. We have been diligent throughout our time at EBC to not mingle or socialize with other teams, as is usually customary.
Memories are Everything
Video Version of the Post
The Podcast on alanarnette.com
You can listen to #everest2021 podcasts on Spotify, Apple Podcast, Breaker, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Anchor, YouTube, and more. Just search for “alan arnette” on your favorite podcast platform.