One Everest Climber — and Maybe More — Tests Positive for COVID

8000ers Everest
Erlend Ness, the one confirmed COVID victim from Everest
Erlend Ness of Norway contracted COVID-19 at some point during his stay in Nepal. Photo: Erlend Ness

One person has definitely tested positive. But there are unconfirmed reports of others.

For a short time, it seemed Everest had returned to normal, but the first COVID case in Base Camp broke the dream. It threatens both to put lives in danger and end the season before it begins.

Nepal’s Department of Tourism Chief Rudra Singh Tamang insisted to ExWeb correspondent Shashwat Pant that no one in BC had the virus. “The report we received stated that he had pneumonia, although he had Covid-19 symptoms,” Tamang said. “But now the patient has been discharged from the hospital and he does not have any symptoms.”

But the patient himself, Erlend Ness of Norway, tells a different story. He did have COVID, he says, and while he tested negative in the last PCR, he still has a long recovery ahead, as he explained personally to ExplorersWeb.

“I tested negative last night and am out from hospital now, but I’m not fully recovered.  It will take six months, my doctor said,” Ness told us. “He advised me to not go back to the mountain because I will get altitude sickness easier than before, so I will leave Nepal and go home in few days.”

COVID victim Erlend Ness in hospital

Erlend Ness, ready to leave hospital yesterday. Photo: Erlend Ness

Ness said he was not aware of the situation with his team (Mountain Professionals) still in Base Camp, because he has focused on his own recovery. “As [far as] I know, I’m the only climber who has tested positive up there,” he said.

When in Kathmandu, Mountain Professionals specifically noted that “all individuals had negative PCR test results delivered [right before flying to Lukla] and the team remains in proper care for individuals and others with regard to social distancing, masks…[and] limited interactions outside of our group.”

Ness confirms these precautions and does not understand how or where he could have caught the coronavirus. “Maybe at one of the tea houses where we stayed on the trek up Khumbu Valley? I really don’t know,” he said. “But I kept a distance from climbers in other groups.”

Oxygen canisters stocked before use on Everest

Oxygen canisters stocked before use on Everest. Photo: IMG

Oxygen for patients, not climbers

Beyond the Khumbu Valley, the whole Nepal is watching the dramatic evolution of the COVID pandemic in neighboring India and at home. “Daily cases [in Nepal] are 10 times what they were two weeks ago,” Shashwat Pant reported. “Towns bordering with India are locked down and Kathmandu could also be forced into lockdown if infections keep growing at that rate.”

Yesterday, a short piece by  ExploreSevenSummits wondered if the oxygen stacked on Everest for climbers shouldn’t be commandeered for hospitals, quoting news of a shortage in Nepal’s Narayani Hospital, located in Birgunj, on the border with India.

But according to Pant, journalists who specialize in health issues say that Nepal’s hospitals do not have a shortage. “So far, there’s plenty,” he says. “The country has just donated oxygen to India [where the shortage is indeed extremely serious].”

Outbreak rumors swirl

Rumors of further cases are swirling and the government is seemingly losing control of the situation. The Kathmandu Post has quoted an anonymous source in Everest Base Camp stating that “at least four people who were evacuated last week have been later diagnosed with COVID”.

One problem is that COVID symptoms are basically the same as HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema). With teams currently on their first rotation to Camp 2, a few cases of Acute Mountain Sickness are likely.

Meanwhile, Nepal’s Department of Tourism refuses to confirm COVID cases. It claims that the hospital did not tell them of Ness’s positive COVID test.

An outbreak at 5,350m, with climbers’ immune systems debilitated by altitude, could be disastrous. We will update as news breaks.

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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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MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
12 days ago

Two new “Firsts” are up for grabs this year:
** First Covid-Positive Summit
** First Covid-Positive Summit who survives.

+3
Victor van der Meulen
Victor van der Meulen
12 days ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

** First Covid-Positive Summit who survives (No O’s)

+1
Paul
Paul
12 days ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

I like your dark humor 😀

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Don Paul
Don Paul
12 days ago

Both the NY Times and Washington Post have written about this, and it will be front page news everywhere if there’s an outbreak. According to Mingma Sherpa, as quoted in the NY Times:

climbers will still continue to venture to the top, even if they test positive. “Expeditions won’t be canceled,” he said. “There’s no point of returning or giving up climbing after reaching base camp.”

+1
Last edited 12 days ago by Don Paul
Rope Destroyer
Rope Destroyer
12 days ago
Reply to  Don Paul

This is the generation that we live in – “climbers” as they claim to be who are clearly climbing for reasons other than real passion and promoting Alpinism; every one of these climbers is fueled with the need for social media validation and you can see their climbing credentials. They come out of nowhere and get guided on 8000m peaks pulling the same rope that a thousand other climbs have done…

+1
Paul
Paul
12 days ago

I just scrolled on IG all new photos from Everest BC: no facemasks, no social distancing outdoor and inside common tents (including Mountain Professionals who says that they follow protocols)
Things could get much more interesting when people will start sharing tents in higher camps.
Anyway, good luck to all of them!

+2
Rope Destroyer
Rope Destroyer
12 days ago
Reply to  Paul

Given the grave situation in India, I can see Nepal going down the same way.

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MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
12 days ago
Reply to  Paul

Especially problematic is the new variant that has emerged in India, B.1.617, which has a double mutation not seen before. Every variant so far has proved to be more transmissible, and some are more lethal. The rapid spread in India is probably attributable to this newer variant. And not clear how well vaccines work against B.1.617. It’s probably too late to stop the spread in Nepal, which has a very porous border with India. China was smart to shut their borders and issue no permits for the north side. But in the face of the human disaster in India (and… Read more »

MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
12 days ago
Reply to  Paul

They think they are in their own safe little world. It’s crazy. Have they no idea what is going on across the border in India? Yeah, I know, stupid question.

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Don Paul
Don Paul
11 days ago
Reply to  Paul

The other thing is that one of the problems in India now is lack of oxygen. Modi just went to an oxygen plant to show support. Right next door there are millionaires on vacation on Mount Everest with helicopters to deliver oxygen.

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Furious
Furious
12 days ago

Yay!!

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MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
11 days ago
Reply to  Furious

??????
According to The Guardian, Norwegian broadcaster NRK reported that a Sherpa in Ness’s party has also tested positive. Whatever you think of the climbers, the Sherpas, porters and cook staff are just there because they desperately need the work. No surprise, but very bad news.

+1
Vincent
Vincent
11 days ago

I really wonder how on K2 in winter this year Covid-19 was not even a thing?? No one was tested after they arrived in Islamabad, no quaranteene, different groupes mixed together and that all in the middle of winter and nothing happend?

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MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
11 days ago
Reply to  Vincent

The K2 climbers were lucky, traveling at a time with low infections, to a remote low population area. You can check out all these numbers one of the many tracking websites, I used the John Hopkins Coronavirus dashboard. The covid epidemic has had periods when the spread slowed or declined and other times infections increased rapidly. Right now, infections are scary high in India (which has a very porous border with Nepal), likely because of the new variant/mutations that emerged in India. If you look at tracking data, infections were quite low in India until around March 15. In January,… Read more »

Vincent Krause
Vincent Krause
11 days ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

Thanks for you re great research

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Paul
Paul
11 days ago
Reply to  Vincent

Before arriving to Islamabad all had to be tested (airlines requirements), then, after departing to K2 BC, they was completely isolated even during hike to BC (there is only glacier), and there was just about 70-80 people in the BC compared to over 1000 in Everest BC plus the EBC is constantly visited by trekkers.

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