Lukas Furtenbach, of Austrian-based Furtenbach Adventures made global headlines after he canceled his spring 2021 Everest expedition on the Nepal side last Friday. This follows the Chinese decision to cancel their only team on the Tibet side. Meanwhile, the officials responsible for the safety of guests climbing in Nepal deny climbers have COVID at Everest Base Camp. I interviewed Lukas from Everest Base Camp on his Tuesday morning, May 18, 2021. We covered a lot of other topics including:
- Planning knowing COVID was a possibility at base camp
- Furtenbach Adventure’s COVID protocol from vaccines (members and Sherpas) to time in Kathmandu, Everest Base Camp, and the High Camps
- Quarantining members and SHerpas
- COVID Testing
- Other teams at EBC
- Final events leading to the cancellation decision
- Getting members and support back home with the airport closed
- Donating Furtenbach’s oxygen and bottles to hospitals in Nepal
- Pakistan climbing plans (also canceled)
- What could have been done differently?
- Any regrets?
It’s a long interview, but worth your time if you are interested in the back story of Everest 2021 from his viewpoint.
Furtenbach told his entire team that he was canceling their expedition due to an “out of control situation at Everest Base Camp.” Furtenbach was one of the few operators who imposed stringent controls over his base camp to minimize the impact of COVID-19. He brought thousands of test kits, hired a team doctor, and limited any exposure with anyone outside his team, including his Sherpas, cooks, and other base camp staff. Yet, he still felt the risks were too high for his 20 customers, 4 mountain guides, and 27 Sherpas. His entire team had completed their acclimatization and were waiting for the winds to recede for their summit attempt.
Lukas sent me an email with his announcement:
We cancel our Everest expedition
(Everest BC, May 15, 2021) Furtenbach Adventures is the first expedition operator to cancel its current expedition on Mount Everest. The number of people infected with Covid in the base camp is increasing, for safety reasons the expedition is therefore ended immediately and the return journey started.
“I didn’t make the decision easy for myself. But to climb above base camp with these massively increasing corona numbers and risk the lives of our 20 customers, 4 mountain guides and 27 Sherpas carelessly, would be irresponsible,” said Lukas Furtenbach, Managing Director of Furtenbach Adventures .
In the past few days, the number of people infected with corona in Everest base camp has increased massively. “With some teams, elementary precautionary measures were simply not observed. There were meetings between the teams, there were celebrations, parties were held. That is why the sudden increase in corona infected people. Our team remained isolated the entire time, our doctor did Regular tests are carried out. But now the point has been reached where we pull the plug, “says Furtenbach, who is also very surprised that nothing is being done by the official Nepalese side.
The high camps on the mountain have been set up in the last few days, and the participants in Furtenbach Expeditions are well acclimatized. A further ascent is still too dangerous because there is of course much less space in the high camps so that the risk of infection increases automatically. “Anyone who becomes infected with Covid at high altitude, then develops symptoms and becomes ill, is very difficult to help. We do not take this risk, which is why our expedition is stopped immediately,” said Furtenbach. Now the base camp is being dismantled, after which the return journey from Nepal is due.
This is not the first time an operator has canceled their expedition for safety reasons. In 2012 Russell Brice of Himalayan Experience (Himex) stopped his efforts due to the impending dangers of an avalanche off the West Shoulder of Everest onto the Khumbu Icefall. He was quite prescient with his decision as two years later that precise scenario occurred taking 14 Sherpa’s lives.
Interview with Lukas Furtenbach of Furtenbach Adventures
Thanks, Lukas for the interview.
Memories are Everything
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