Dhaulagiri: Summit Push Aborted, COVID Rampaging, Tension in BC

Annapurna, seen yesterday from Camp 3 on Dhaulagiri. Photo: Lakpa Dendi

These days, we should be reporting on a summit push on Dhaulagiri. The Sherpa team reached Camp 3 yesterday, and the commercial climbers were expected to follow today. According to plan, everyone would summit tomorrow. But things are not going remotely well on Dhaulagiri.

Purnima Srhestha confirmed that the team was retreating from Camp 2 because of “heavy snowfall and the COVID-19 situation.” The Indian photojournalist dismissed that same COVID situation as “nothing serious” two days ago. But the outbreak is now totally out of control.

Some climbers are reportedly refusing to take a test while others are falling sick. Antonios Sykaris started having respiratory issues at the higher camps and has returned to BC to take a COVID test. But he fears the worst.

Antonios Sykaris at Dhaulagiri BC. Photo: Antonios Sykaris

The danger that climbers may reach higher camps, where a rescue is much more difficult, before showing symptoms has put a sudden end to the Dhaulagiri push. It may repeat on Everest, where massive summit waves are expected this week.

Wlademar Kowalewski, Stefi Troguet, Dominic Trastoy, and Moeses Finamoncini reached Camp 3 yesterday and were confident that they could continue. But they have all chosen to retreat. Back in Base Camp, Troguet is feeling well. But she too has just tested positive for COVID.

Meanwhile, in Carlos Soria’s team, Nima Sherpa, Tenjing Sherpa, and Danu Sherpa also tested positive and are in isolation. Today, a helicopter evacuated the team’s cook, Ngati, with more serious symptoms. Soria and his two partners have tried to help combat the spread of the virus, but the rate of contagion continues to rise. As of yesterday, the three Spaniards were all right, and 82-year-old Carlos Soria has received both his mRNA vaccinations.

Both Dhaulagiri and Everest Base Camps do not have access to PCR testing, so are using rapid antigen tests that some climbers have brought. According to the Cochrane Library, which publishes rigorous reviews of multiple studies, antigen tests give false positives just one percent of the time and detect the presence of COVID between 58 and 72 percent of the time.

Rows about the ropes

But the coronavirus is not the only reason for the tension in Base Camp. Carla Pérez told Desnivel that she and Topo Mena were climbing on their own in front partly because they wanted to be on fresh terrain and to make their own decisions, but also because they wanted to avoid conflict. “There were some bad vibes in Base Camp between the Sherpas and some clients who were “not-so-clients”, because they had not paid for the ropes,” she said.

This is a recurrent problem among climbers in a Himalayan base camp. Some pay for a fully serviced expedition, which includes the rope fixing and usually personal Sherpas and oxygen. Others only hire base camp logistics — food, tents, cooks, etc.

In these cases, climbers often pay for the use of ropes or help work on the route. Sometimes, though, the climbers may refuse to pay and claim that they will not use the fixed ropes — although on normal routes, this is unlikely.

Occasionally, the outfitters responsible for the rope fixing are not interested in negotiating a deal. They simply want climbers to pay. The exact cause of the tension on Dhaulagiri remains unclear.

Mena and Pérez’s story

Topo Mena and Carla Pérez said that the going was great until Camp 1 and slightly harder to Camp 2. It then became really difficult until Camp 3, because of very hard ice in places, and definitely tough beyond.

Perez said that they set off from Camp 3 very early on May 8. They progressed slowly because of the difficult, exposed sections. Pérez has summited Everest and K2 without oxygen. Yet even she admitted that climbing alpine style over a mix of hard ice and avalanche-prone slabs that required constant testing was highly taxing, both physically and mentally.

Eventually, Pérez turned around because of the cold. Mena continued until the infamous traverse at 7,700m, but conditions were simply too dangerous. He broke trail in several directions, looking for some acceptably safe direction, but the wind slab on the steep slope was too weak. Eventually, he also turned around.

“Ivan Vallejo [Ecuadorian 14x8000er summiter] had warned us about that traverse,” Pérez said. “Carlos Soria, who knows this mountain so well, told us that conditions were dangerous, and I can only agree with him.”

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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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Paul
Paul
4 months ago

All the tests that are made in Base Camp are the antigen test which are very inaccurate (about 60-70%) so the fact that someone test positive not mean that is in fact positive…

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Jerry Kobalenko
Admin
4 months ago
Reply to  Paul

Thanks for your comment, Paul. We’ve added a paragraph to clarify this. Your numbers are not correct. Antigen tests often miss COVID, but they give false positives only about 1% of the time.

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Blabla
Blabla
4 months ago

This is just a number without a context. This is not what the study says. Plus one cant generalize all covid antigen tests like that.
https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/letters-health-care-providers/potential-false-positive-results-antigen-tests-rapid-detection-sars-cov-2-letter-clinical-laboratory

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Doctor
Doctor
4 months ago
Reply to  Blabla

This is not a medical forum. Who cares?

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Blabla
Blabla
4 months ago
Reply to  Doctor

I do. The information is incorrect and leads you to believe that of all those who tested positive, 99% definitely have the virus, which is absolutely false. One cannot claim that all the covid antigen tests give only about 1% false positives and link a study that doesn’t really say that as an argument.
Please leave the clarifications to the experts in the field..

Every second article here needs to be edited after it’s published these days and it’s obvious when you read the comments.

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Max Madera
Max Madera
4 months ago
Reply to  Blabla

I do not know what is your point. PCRs also give false positives. In addition, the likelihood of a false negative is larger than that of a false positive in all antigen tests that I am aware of. Finally, is common sense procedure (recommended+ by all European medical organizations, to say the least) that a positive should behave as if he had the virus, before more tests are taken. This means social distancing as best as possible and certainly, not going up an eight-thousander. So, what was your point again?

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Ash Routen
Editor
4 months ago
Reply to  Blabla

Thanks Blaba. I recommended the Cochrane findings to Jerry for inclusion, as they consistently produce very rigorous reviews of data. The team included 48 studies from various countries that had evaluated the performance of a wide range of antigen tests. While it’s likely not all antigen tests were included in this review, they report 95% confidence intervals for the sensitivity and specificity values of the tests combined. Crudely these can tell us the likely range of performance of other types of tests. On average false positives were reported to be 1% or less: “Average specificities were high in symptomatic and… Read more »

Blabla
Blabla
4 months ago
Reply to  Ash Routen

Thank you for caring to respond. I’m not going to argue, I just want to say I appreciate that you’re always ready respond to comments like that and all the coverage we’re getting from you.

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Ash Routen
Editor
4 months ago
Reply to  Blabla

Thanks Blabla. We appreciate you reading our coverage, and definitely not arguing, just good discussion 🙂

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Sarah
Sarah
4 months ago
Reply to  Ash Routen

Please consider that the Cochrane analysis included antigen tests with a very low sensitivity up from 80% sensitivity only. I would fully agree that the Cochrane analysis is normally (!) the gold standard in our scientific field. But in this certain case it is unfortunately misleading as they stuck to the WHO recommendation standard for antigen tests meeting at least sensitivity criteria up from 80%. 80% is far not (!) what most nowadays common antigen tests meet as a sensitivity criteria. Most common antigentests have a far higher sensitivity of over 90%. So unfortunately the so often cited Cochrane analysis… Read more »

Ash Routen
Editor
4 months ago
Reply to  Sarah

Hi Sarah, thanks for commenting. I wasn’t sure what you mean when you say included antigen tests with a sensitivity from 80% up? As far as I can see they had quite relaxed study inclusion criteria (sorry if that’s not what you meant). There are however of course some issues with the review such as PCR as comparator, date of searches and exclusion of some more recent data etc. I have read a range of manufacturers have claimed very high sensitivity (some as high as 97%), when they actually calculated the percent agreement statistic. The authors reference some newer work… Read more »

Semaj
Semaj
4 months ago

Sir Edmund told me many years ago….if you make it,you are able to summit,then all is fine mate,but…..if you die trying,then oh well,at least you have that ole college try mate😎😎😎😉

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