COVID Spreads on Dhaulagiri and the Khumbu, Nepal Closed

Hiding in the murk of secrecy won't help. Climbers in the Khumbu Icefall. Photo: Pascal Denoel

The pandemic has roared back into Nepal, both in urban areas and in the mountains. The virus has reached not just Everest Base Camp but also Dhaulagiri and the Khumbu Valley.

The news of COVID in Everest BC has made headlines around the world, but outfitters, climbers, and Nepal’s government have continued an increasingly senseless policy of never mentioning the virus or anything that might throw shade on Nepal or mountain tourism. The few who dared to post critical comments later deleted them.

Empty streets in Thamel (Kathmandu) sadly recall last year’s first lockdown. Photo: Billi Bierling

The public backlash is well underway. Many now demand that the expeditions stop. Also, in Everest’s case, that thousands of bottles of canned oxygen for climbers be donated to local hospitals that lack oxygen for severe COVID cases.

Everest climbers are going up to Camp 3, and the first summit wave could be just around the corner. But when the good news comes, the reaction might not be as enthusiastic as usual.

“However successful the climbing season may be, however worthy the personal achievement for those who reach the summit, the employment to the community, and the friendships made, it will weigh heavily against the lives that will be lost to COVID-19 and the impact on Nepal’s already fragile health system,” blogger and climber Mark Horrell wrote in his latest post.

Dhaulagiri hit

Secrecy was impossible to keep on Dhaulagiri. There, some climbers played the Everest game of denial. Others, such as Carlos Soria, just stated the truth plainly.

“Yesterday, the first positive cases were detected and evacuated by helicopter,” said the 82-year-old Soria. “We are all okay, taking all possible precautions. The priority now is to keep the situation under control.”

They discovered many of the COVID cases because Soria’s partners had brought along testing kits. Soria himself had two doses of an mRNA vaccine before leaving Spain. It is unknown whether either of his two companions also received a vaccine. They are younger and therefore not on the government’s priority vaccination list.

Clouds and COVID cases surround Dhaulagiri. Photo: Carlos Soria

Yesterday, photojournalist/climber Purnima Shrestha happily reported: “We are safe and sound at Dhaulagiri Base Camp, no lockdown, no COVID.”

Only a few hours later, The Himalayan Times reported more than 10 climbers with the coronavirus. “Five climbers including a foreigner were brought to Kathmandu yesterday while nine more — four foreigners and five Sherpas — will be evacuated today after some of them tested positive during the antigen and RDT tests carried out by a medical team from the Nepal Army stationed at base camp,” they wrote.

No evacuations happened from Dhaulagiri today because of bad weather.

Antonios Sykaris admits that he will have a hard time returning to Greece, but continues to play seek-and-hide with COVID. “We here in our small community do not seem to have a problem for the time being,” he wrote obliquely. “About five or six people have left for personal or health reasons, but the rest of us remain healthy and optimistic.”

Sykaris was less discreet about COVID on Everest, where he cited 150 cases already. The lack of official information makes it impossible to know whether that figure is exaggerated or real.

Khumbu Outbreak

Trekkers and climbers are contacting ExplorersWeb or posting in our Comments section. One trekker just back from the Chola Pass and Everest Base Camp wrote: “Of 11 [trekkers], nine of us have contracted COVID-19, probably at Gorak shep (even though all of us had done a PCR test twice before starting the trek). While trekking back to Lukla, we were extremely fatigued with a bad cough, which at that time we attributed to the infamous Khumbu Cough. The Nepal Government should be more strict with PCR testing and also make locals take the test.”

On that score, there is some good news. “The Himalayan Rescue Association clinic at Pheriche was asked by the government a few days ago to do antigen COVID testing and [it] has probably already begun,” Dr. Ken Zafren, Associated Medical Director of the HRA, told ExplorersWeb from Gokyo.

Dr. Zafren also expressed concern about the careless behavior of some climbing groups at lodges. “[Last night] there was a Czech Baruntse expedition that had just crossed the Rinjo La,” he said. “They monopolized the stove in the dining room and never wore masks. When asked about the lack of COVID precautions, they proudly announced that they had quarantined for 10 days in Kathmandu and didn’t need to take further precautions…I hope you will warn your readers that such behavior is not only dangerous but will likely result in further limitations for future expeditions.”

Perhaps because of the spottily enforced quarantines for foreigners in Kathmandu, the virus has already reached the Khumbu Valley. The chances of getting sick and spreading the virus rise every day. Unlike visitors, local families lack travelers’ insurance policies that provide swift evacuation and treatment. So irresponsible behavior is not an option.

Empty streets — and airports

The now-empty streets of Kathmandu recall last year’s lockdown, but the death toll is much higher this time. Everything is closed, except for stores selling essential goods. Those only open from 7 am to 9 am.

International flights have been canceled. Domestic flights ended some days ago, although climbers currently in the Khumbu confirmed that flights linking Kathmandu and Lukla continue three times per week. So trekkers and climbers can return to the capital. Helicopters remain an option (although not a cheap one) to reach Kathmandu. But from there, it is unclear how passengers will manage to leave the country.

Foreigners hurry to catch the last flights out of Nepal yesterday. Photo: Billi Bierling

Large numbers of foreigners lined up yesterday for the last flights leaving Nepal. Among them was Billi Bierling of The Himalayan Database. She had already booked her flight before knowing that all international departures were about to cease.

“It makes me incredibly sad,” Bierling said before leaving. “My heart goes out to this beautiful country that I have grown to love…I hope I will be able to come back soon.”

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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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jmaf
jmaf
4 months ago

India and Nepal are having an outbreak, this wasn’t brought to them by trekkers or climbers. The climbers and trekkers were all tested prior to traveling within the country so they obviously caught the virus from the natives, not the other way around. Most climbers and trekkers are young and healthy and will be fine even if they catch the covid. Why would a conversation around stopping climbs even make sense other than to make a political statement? They are already on these remote mountains and will be impacting no one but themselves at this point. Yes, the virus is… Read more »

Don Paul
Don Paul
4 months ago
Reply to  jmaf

Natives?

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jmaf
jmaf
4 months ago
Reply to  Don Paul

yes, people native to Nepal. Thanks for your query PC police.

+1
Lenore Jones
Lenore Jones
4 months ago
Reply to  jmaf

Natives is offensive. Try local residents.

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MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
4 months ago
Reply to  jmaf

Who brought Covid in is irrelevant. What is relevant is who is now spreading it. And in the case of climbers, who is hoarding O2.

+5
jmaf
jmaf
4 months ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

There isn’t enough 02 on Everest to satisfy the needs of a population in the midst of a covid outbreak. This is nothing more than political grandstanding. Kind of like Pres. Biden wearing a mask on a virtual call.

+1
MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
4 months ago
Reply to  jmaf

You are literally arguing that unless everyone can be saved no effort should be made to help anyone at all.

So it is only “political grandstanding” if it is needed by someone you don’t care about. But if it was needed by one of your loved ones it would be urgent, lifesaving and absolutely necessary.

+2
Damien François
Damien François
4 months ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

the WHO brought it, you are right.

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Lenore Jones
Lenore Jones
4 months ago
Reply to  jmaf

They are impacting the porters and sherpas supporting them, and on their return the teahouses on the trek back. The porters and sherpas who catch it probably do not have money for health coverage. Any asymptomatic or mild cases among them mean possibly bringing it back to their home villages. The climbers also affect each other, and again, the people back home, some of whom are not young and fit. Furthermore, many young and fit people have been strongly affected by COVID. Their chances are better, that’s all. How about you learna few things before spouting nonsense?

+4
Damien François
Damien François
4 months ago
Reply to  jmaf

Dheira danyabhat! Tujichey!

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Bob
Bob
4 months ago
Reply to  jmaf

Perhaps because their guides and support staff will contract the disease and then return to their homes all across the region. Use some common sense.

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Vedrana
Vedrana
4 months ago

Although this is an extraordinary and complex situation and first of all, the responsibility lies on the government that allowed Everest business to continue as usual, the behaviour of team leaders and agencies, and, in the end, the clients/climbers themselves is, mildly speaking, questionable. Through this whole pandemic, scientists and governments are trying to convince the public to behave responsibly in order to save lives, even if that means serious sacrifices like losing jobs. Staying silent about the COVID problem in the base camps is directly endangering the lives of others (and for what – they are doing this only… Read more »

Leon
Leon
4 months ago
Reply to  Vedrana

Lord Buddha has moved out long time ago and the mighty god of $$$ rules in the Khumbu and beyond. It takes a crisis to reveal the true nature of people. When things are good, everyone is nice and your friend as long as you keep paying. In crisis, you learn what everyone is made of. I feel sorry for the poor Nepalis. Because of a few rotten, greedy individuals the remote communities are at serious risk with no chance for help from their government. I am sure that someone will analyze this fiasco, but as always in Nepal, the… Read more »

jmaf
jmaf
4 months ago
Reply to  Vedrana

Nepalese didn’t catch Covid from the climbers, they were in the midst of a domestic outbreak, fueled by their proximity to India, when the climbers arrived. Climbers didn’t impact anyone other than to provide much needed economic support to a struggling industry. All these comments are more Covid wokeness that ignore the actual facts and data and proclaim look at me, I’m more careful than you, give me a prize… Stay home, act outraged, and leave bold acts to others while you cower in your closet waiting to be given permission by your government agencies to resume your life.

+4
Lewis
Lewis
4 months ago
Reply to  jmaf

You are clearly a climber on Everest right now or friends/family of someone who is. You are responding badly to the criticism. Get over yourself. No one should have been on the mountain this year. No one. Deep down, those on the mountain right now must be questioning their motives this year.

+4
Leon
Leon
4 months ago
Reply to  jmaf

Jmaf, yes, “a bold act” indeed – sitting in an infested BC and hoping for the best. It is even bolder to be locked up in a hotel in KTM waiting endlessly for a non existent flight. Or even bolder than that: taking space in the hospital from the locals. So many ways to shine brother.

The fact that the Nepali climbing industry is a nest of greed and corruption (from top to bottom) should not be a surprise to you. It has nothing to do with COVID or wokness. The COVID just makes it come to the surface.

+1
Last edited 4 months ago by Leon
Damien François
Damien François
4 months ago
Reply to  jmaf

Beware, you make sense by stating the obvious and denouncing the ugly and nasty PC and wokeness, so you will only get dislikes here! ;-))

0
Bob
Bob
4 months ago

Because to be direct this person is an idiot who is really espousing the view that each person should be allowed to do whatever they want irregardless of the consequences. I can except that each person should take their own personal responsibility to keep themselves safe but when people such as this espouse irresponsible and selfish behaviour we see why government intervention is necessary.

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Bob
Bob
4 months ago
Reply to  Bob

Obviously accept not except.

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barbara
barbara
4 months ago
Reply to  jmaf

what a cheap libertarian view! but it shows clearly its antisocial, irresponsible, egoistic and narcissistic habitus. not to forget that the antiwokeness attitude is absolutely from the same superegomoral-viewpoint that some “woke” people might have. – the comments here are not woke but just liberal in a full and broad sense – critical and social human sense.

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Last edited 4 months ago by barbara
Brot Coburn
Brot Coburn
4 months ago
Reply to  barbara

I’m not sure I understand this post.

+1
MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
4 months ago

Great reporting again Angela! After the dust (or snow) settles, I hope you can write a detailed retrospective, including expedition names and perhaps sources.

+4
James A Jones
James A Jones
4 months ago

Climbing without vaccination is like climbing without a rope.

0
Damien François
Damien François
4 months ago

Goodbye Khumbu Cough… enter Covid… If ther had been Khumbu Cough testing in the pat years, 99% of the people at EBC would have tested positive. The times, they are a’changin’…

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