Himalaya: Climbers, Sherpas Grapple With Closure

8000ers Everest Himalaya
An empty Lhotse Wall on a lonely Everest -- that's the situation this spring. Photo: Alex Txikon

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Those are the five stages of grief, according to Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. And most Himalayan climbers who had their backpacks filled and their plane tickets in their pockets are currently going through one of them. The decision made yesterday by Nepal’s government to close down all mountains to foreign climbers has shattered the mountaineering community. There are unconfirmed rumors that the trekking season has also been closed.

Although this is a first world problem, as Kilian Jornet points out, the decision will also have crushing economic consequences for ordinary Nepalis. As of 2018, tourism made up almost eight percent of the country’s GDP and created more than a million jobs. Shutting down an entire industry that everyone had counted for financial support is, especially in the Khumbu and Annapurna regions, a catastrophe.

But grieving for a canceled (or postponed) dream is nothing compared with the real grief of losing a loved one. “It’s the responsible decision,” said Adrian Ballinger of AlpenGlow. “Climbing a mountain is not worth the risk of transmission in Base Camps.” In fact, no foreign outfitter or climber has complained about the call.

Austria’s mountain refuges are closed during the coronavirus crisis. Photo: Österreicher Alpenverein

Sergi Mingote, aiming to summit the 14x8000ers without supplementary oxygen in record time, was to set off for Annapurna and Makalu on March 28. He says that his plans will be postponed but not cancelled. “I had quite of a shock yesterday, but today I am already rescheduling,” he told ExplorersWeb. “I am just anxious for Nepal’s people; the economic impact will be terrible.”

Mingote hopes that the situation will improve in time for the Karakorum season and his attempt on Gasherbrum II. “Then, hopefully, in the fall, I will climb one or two of the Tibetan 8,000’ers and maybe one in Nepal,” he said. He later aired his thoughts (in Spanish):

But what will happen with the trekkers and climbers already in Nepal? For example, Slovaks Peter Hamor and Michal Sabovčík, along with Romanians Horia Colibasanu and Mario Gant, returned to open a new route on Dhaulagiri’s Northwest Face, after an unsuccessful attempt at it last year.

Hamor flew to Nepal on March 8 and reached Namche Bazaar yesterday. Earlier today, he reported no problems with acclimatization and was confident that the expedition would proceed. Not only has that notion ended, but like so many non-climbing travelers, Hamor may have difficulty returning home because of cancelled flights and the confusion since Slovakia has closed its borders to non-residents.

Happier times: Peter Hamor leaving Slovakia to open a new route on Dhaulagiri. Photo: Peter Hamor

So, will there be no climbs at all in the Himalaya? None for foreigners. It remains to be seen whether some Nepali team will climb a mountain by themselves. In Tibet, Everest is similarly closed to foreigners but as Mingma G pointed out recently, Chinese teams will be allowed to climb. In fact, Yarla Shampo Expeditions (the only authorized operator for Chinese teams, according to Mingma) has started preparations.

Meanwhile, European mountain huts are closing in the Alps and elsewhere. Rescue patrols are asking everyone to #stayathome. Italy’s National Corps of Alpine Rescue explained that if someone had an accident, a rescue would involve about a dozen people who otherwise would be assisting in the coronavirus crisis, and the victim might have trouble getting treatment in overwhelmed hospitals operated by exhausted medical personnel.

Kilian Jornet, by the way, has opened a section on his website titled Summits At Home, streaming all his movies for free. Further climbers are coming up with similar stay-at-home ideas: tutorials, videos, articles, etc. to improve the morale of those deciding not to travel for the common good.

Frame from Kilian Jornet’s documentary, Summits of my Life.

Those living in areas of the world where the disease is not yet widespread may still climb, trek and ski at home. But let me add my personal two cents: I’m a Madrid resident, and eight days ago I was planning another ski-touring weekend in the Pyrenees. Currently, I’m quarantined at home after 48 worrying hours of feeling short of breath and unable to get a doctor, a COVID-19 test or any advice from the nearly collapsed health care system. Guys, it might be wise to be conservative and not make long-distance or long-term plans. Things are changing at an amazing speed.

Ski ace Andrej Bargiel has canceled plans to ski Everest this spring and stayed at home to read. Photo: Andrej Vargiel

Related story:

Nepal Closes All Mountains, Including Everest

About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

Sport journalist, published author and communication consultant. Feeling back home at ExplorersWeb after five years exploring distant professional ranges. From Dec19 to Feb20, I'll be also working as press manager for Alex Txikon's expeditions to Antarctica, winter Ama Dablam and winter Everest.

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3 Comments on "Himalaya: Climbers, Sherpas Grapple With Closure"

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Sheeny
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Its a world problem not first’ world problem… plenty of mountains to climb in other places…look after each other.

Damien François
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Happy globalization, isn’t it?! Hajur, Corona is also part of it.
I was about to leave on Tuesday, to attempt Lhotse this Spring. I find it normal that Nepal takes serious measures like this.
The Nepali are tough and I’m sure they will deal better with the situation than many people in the “developed world”. On April 26th 2015, some already started rebuilding… This country, these people are amazing. Sherpas, Gurkhas, Bhote and many more who are true humans, not weakened like so many in the “developed world”.

Ane
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Right now there are more fucking important things to focus on then your not fucking climbing everest. Get over it and help the worod eith the pandemic.