The COVID Situation at Everest Base Camp

8000ers Everest
Many tents at Everest Base Camp
Everest Base Camp. Photo: Himalman weblog

It remains unclear whether COVID-19 has managed to sneak onto the slopes of Everest.

For the past 24 hours, a possible COVID case in Everest Base Camp has stirred rumors that at least another two people are also sick.

In an interview with mountain blogger Stefan Nestler, outfitter Lukas Furtenbach complained that some teams are not respecting safety protocols. While Furtenbach’s team members maintain social distance, take tests every few days, and wear masks around Base Camp, others are apparently holding parties and inviting members from other teams.

A 2019 party at Everest Base camp

Oh, those times! A party at Everest Base Camp in 2019. Photo: Everest Experts

Climbers in all Himalayan base camps feel safe in a sort of high-altitude bubble. They all supposedly tested negative in two PCR tests before leaving Kathmandu. And they either quarantined or had received all the required doses of a COVID vaccine before coming to Nepal.

Yet the virus may have found some way to sneak in.

Patient zero?

Some days ago, on the trek to Base Camp, Norwegian climber Erlend Ness suddenly felt sick. “After three days with shortness of breath and on oxygen, I was airlifted to the hospital in Kathmandu and was admitted with a diagnosis of pulmonary edema,” he wrote on Facebook.

Ness says that in eight years of climbing mountains around the world, he has never had problems with altitude. “I don’t know if I have HAPE or COVID,” he said from the hospital.

He did not receive a fresh PCR test right away, because he first had to grapple with his insurance company. “As it turned out, my COVID-19 insurance covered the rescue but not the stay in the hospital,” he explained, “so they want to charge me $1,500 per day and keep me here for about two weeks.”

Ness then changed hospitals and took a PCR test in the new one. In his latest update, he said he was feeling better but still awaiting results. “I hope to leave hospital soon,” he wrote.

But that was three days ago. As of yesterday, Ness was still in isolation at the hospital. No news has been forthcoming about the results of the PCR test.

Norwegian Erlend Ness, the possible COVID patient zero, in hospital.

Erlend Ness in a Kathmandu hospital. Photo: Erlend Ness

It is important to note that we are not sure whether it was Ness’s case that sparked the initial COVID rumors or whether there is another patient zero.

Nepal issues new COVID rule

Today, Nepal’s Department of Tourism issued an order requiring that all climbers who move from one Base Camp to another take a fresh PCR test before going to their second destination. This was on the same document that announced an Everest rule change stating that summit pushes would occur in the order that teams received their permits.

We’ll update further once the rumors precipitate into facts. Certainly, everybody agrees that a COVID outbreak in Everest Base Camp would spell the end of the season.

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About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!

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Javi
3 months ago

I hope Erlend is OK.

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MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
3 months ago

What a mess and no surprise. Without strict quarantines and “bubbles” this “single test and you are free to go” approach was doomed to failure. Single tests cannot detect the presence of infection with 100% accuracy. Lots of exposure opportunities after the test. Newer variants are spreading and are even more transmissible. And a negative test likely made people overconfident that it was safe to resume normal socializing, which makes this scheme even more dangerous. Furtenbach is doing it right. If the rest are not, Base Camp is an incubator for viral spread. And no one knows how altitude complicates… Read more »

Damien François
Damien François
3 months ago

Evereything is Covid, in 2021… Sad, the world is being fooled big time…
Masks around EBC? My god, I’m glad I don’t see that this time…

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Damien François
Damien François
3 months ago

Explorers scared of a Fort Dettrick-made virus disliking, proficiat!

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