Everest: China and Some South Side Teams Cancel Over COVID Fears

8000ers COVID-19 Everest
Furtenbach Adventures team tests members for COVID this morning in Base Camp. Photo: Furtenbach Adventures

Something is very wrong at Everest Base Camp. The Chinese have canceled their attempt on the north side because of fears of contagion — on the summit? And on the South Side, Lukas Furtenbach has canceled his company’s expedition, he confirmed to ExplorersWeb. The team was going to launch its summit push today, but events have evolved fast, forcing a sudden cancellation.

“China has decided to cancel all climbing activities on Mount Qomolangma amid fears of possible imported cases of COVID-19,” China’s General Administration of Sport said in a press release. That means that they fear the virus may somehow cross the mountain from the South Side, where the COVID outbreak has become the country’s worst-kept secret.

Everest North Side at sunset. Photo: Xinhua News/Purbu Zhaxi

Earlier this week, the only Chinese team on the North Side of Everest announced that they would set up a “line of separation” on the summit, to keep climbers from different sides intermingling. They also purposely avoided the mountain during the first summit wave from the South Side. Himalaya Expeditions, the only outfitter on the North Side, told Xinhua News that its climbers have been resting down in Tingri for the last few days.

For some reason, the outfitter has concluded that such measures were not enough. It has now canceled altogether.

In addition, while hospitals were not supposed to provide information about foreign patients with COVID, the head of business development at the CIEWC foreigners hospital in Kathmandu told the Chinese News Agency that they had had several mountaineers from Everest in their hospital “three weeks ago”. All tested positive for COVID in PCR tests, he said. Eventually, all were discharged from the hospital.

Cases increasing in Base Camp

Cases on the South Side have increased in the last few days, according to sources from Base Camp and Kathmandu. Evacuations continue daily. Nepali authorities have avoided giving the Himalayan Rescue Association in Base Camp access to COVID tests. This way, all symptomatic climbers may be evacuated with a generic diagnosis of Acute Mountain Sickness. It is not clear how they diagnose patients with high fevers — hardly typical with Acute Mountain Sickness — in addition to pulmonary issues.

Some outfitters, including high-end Furtenbach Adventures, brought their own antigen testing kits from home. Furtenbach’s two Everest teams haven’t had a single case of COVID and they were going to launch their summit push today, with an eye to reaching the top on May 20. Instead, this morning, they canceled their season in light of the growing crisis in Base Camp.

This decision wasn’t easy, said Furtenbach in a statement, “but to climb [from] Base Camp with these massively increasing corona numbers and risk the lives of our 20 customers, 4 mountain guides, and 27 Sherpas carelessly, would be irresponsible.”

Some teams held parties

Furtenbach puts the blame squarely on those in Base Camp ignoring simply safety protocols. “With some teams, elementary precautionary measures were simply not observed,” he said, palpably angry. “There were meetings between the teams, there were celebrations, parties were held. That is why [there is] a sudden increase in corona-infected people. Our team remained isolated the entire time, our doctor did regular tests. But now the point has been reached where we have to get out.”

Other teams, such as IMG and Mountain Professionals, continue to prepare for their summit push. Although the weather is still poor, teams may at least move to Camps 1 and 2.

A member of Mountain Professionals tests his oxygen system in Base Camp, as preparations begin for the final summit push. Photo: Mountain Professionals

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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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Dave
Dave
28 days ago

Seems like a smart move. Can’t imagine the Nepalese authorities being too pleased with Furtenbach for this one – a brave move to come out with it under the circumstances.

+1
barbara
barbara
28 days ago

at last a little bit of reason and responsibility. painting brighter the murky picture of the whole season.

+1
Don Paul
Don Paul
28 days ago

Maybe things got unfriendly up there at the Line Of Everest Control.

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MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
28 days ago
Reply to  Don Paul

Do we know if ropes were fixed on their side?

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Paul
Paul
28 days ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

No, there was no ropes fixed from the Tibet side and nobody made it to the summit

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Don Paul
Don Paul
28 days ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

The article I was reading only said the Chinese “will” set up a separation line at the summit.

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lmontejo
Dr. Leo Montejo
28 days ago

The pullout of expeditions from Everest with the lame excuse that there were too many parties at EBC spreading COVID, raises some serious questions. Let’s review how COVID is dealt with in medicine, and compare this with how it’s managed by professional climbing expeditions: 1. You don’t take healthy people into a possibly contaminated area. As an example, it is common practice that for open joint cases such as a total knee replacement, these are never performed in operating rooms where bowel cases have been in recently. (You don’t want intestinal bacteria in your new joint…)  The first mistake made would… Read more »

Paul
Paul
28 days ago

Why do you think that Russians organize the parties (I don’t say that they didn’t haha) but for example Mike Posner (US citizen) organize a concert today that was attended by members from others expeditions… no social distancing, no facemasks etc…

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lmontejo
Dr. Leo Montejo
28 days ago
Reply to  Paul

Because I’ve been to them on the North Side, and I can vouch for Helena that she knows how to throw a good party! Look – it’s all about being adults here. There is a global pandemic. India and Nepal are being hard hit. So we all had to play by certain rules. If not followed, there were consequences to be dealt with. A Mike Posner concert is totally irresponsible, just out of respect for the Nepali people and the pandemic that is ravaging their country. But maybe you have a point! Maybe this year, people paid ~$100K NOT to… Read more »

Paul
Paul
28 days ago

Sounds as very expensive party, but at the moment it looks like that :/

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Don Paul
Don Paul
28 days ago

Climbing Mount Everest with covid brings a new meaning to the prized “without oxygen” status.

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lmontejo
Dr. Leo Montejo
28 days ago
Reply to  Don Paul

Too funny! On a more serious note, I have been wondering whether the two deaths we already had this year could be related to COVID. We’ll never know, but it’s something to be seriously considered as a differential diagnosis. The term, they died of “exhaustion” is meaningless in medicine, and that is what has been used here for cause of death. Exhaustion could be the effect of HACE, HAPE, myocardial infarction, dehydration, etc. or COVID pneumonia. If you have a mild case of COVID, where at sea-level your SpO2 would drop 8 points, from 100 to 92%, this drop near… Read more »

Don Paul
Don Paul
27 days ago

I’ll bet covid was a factor. 30 of the Seven Summits clients tested positive. But in this business, it’s OK if a few clients die. They just cut them down off the route so others can get by. One of them walked down to the south col but I doubt anyone will bring the body down.

On the other hand the Chinese are very concerned about covid, even the summit of Mount Everest is a dangerous point of entry.

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DRC
DRC
28 days ago

I love your post dr. Leo! Your knowledge is great.
Interestingly though, seems that only in America a doctor is also a lawyer, insurance broker and financial adviser. I feel pity for you guys…

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lmontejo
Dr. Leo Montejo
28 days ago
Reply to  DRC

Thanks DRC! Unfortunately, you are right, and that is our reality here. 🙁 I have been involved in the past with the management of ORs and therefore the extra insight I have with regards to costs every time we have complications that could have been prevented. Regarding insurance, somebody always ends up paying for mess-ups, and trust me, insurance companies will do everything within their means to make the hospitals or doctors pay for their mistakes. Therefore we have protocols and defined standards that are used to measure our performance. If we follow them, we are usually of the hook!… Read more »

Last edited 28 days ago by lmontejo
DRC
DRC
27 days ago

Doctor – we’d warmly welcome you in Australia, where our political leader is a normal guy, Covid-19 cases are almost zero, health care is free and you don’t have to worry about the insurance companies. Please consider…

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Christopher Markes
Christopher Markes
28 days ago

A wise move God knows what might happen higher up Everest when everybody needs to be 100%

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MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
28 days ago

Wow. Furtenbach was the only expedition that had what I consider appropriate precautions for travel during a pandemic, and to his credit these policies were put in place before news of the massive spike in India. He is the only leader to have done appropriate risk management, so this decision to leave is big and really means something. Guess we will learn more later. And the Chinese decision also makes me worry too. We know that there is travel between Nepal and Tibet/China unrelated to mountaineering, so I wonder if Tibet/China is experiencing an outbreak of the newer Indian coronavirus… Read more »

Paul
Paul
28 days ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

My guess for reason of canceling the expedition from Tibet side is that they not fixed ropes to the summit before first good weather window (11/12th May). We don’t know how high they were, to what Camp are ropes fixed so with not good forecasts for next days and maybe low chance for summit they decided to cancel blaming the Covid.
But we will never know the truth

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Don Paul
Don Paul
27 days ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

He did bring 20 clients up there, though, while other expedition leaders decided not to go this year.

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Ian
Ian
28 days ago

So, China is concerned about a virus that they released being carried into a region that they forcefully occupied. The CCP clowns are the biggest hypocrites.

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Lenore Jones
Lenore Jones
27 days ago
Reply to  Ian

They didn’t release it. Nobody would deliberately release a nasty human disease in their own country. It spread from animals to humans there, and then spread outward steadily, just as the so-called “Spanish” flu spread from the U.S. to the rest of the world.

And are you using the Russian CCP to refer to China? I hate to tell you, but they are separate countries, with different languages and different writing systems. I’m rather surprised you didn’t know that.

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Paul
Paul
27 days ago
Reply to  Lenore Jones

CCP is Chinese Communist Party, Soviet Union (old Russia) was CCCP.

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Don Paul
Don Paul
27 days ago
Reply to  Paul

The party may have missed their weather window, but then I think the Chinese government shut it down.

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Last edited 27 days ago by Don Paul
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