Everest: COVID Parties and Summit Pushes

8000ers COVID-19 Everest
Multi-team party at Everest Base Camp, shared on Instagram by Dawa Yangzun, one of those who moved to Everest from Dhaulagiri Base Camp.

While the COVID-19 outbreak ravages both Everest Base Camp and the entire Khumbu Valley, some teams seem to be living in an alternate reality.

Yesterday, several groups felt good enough to hold a party with live music, as if COVID didn’t exist. Pop singer Mike Posner, currently climbing with Jon Kedrowski, sang in a pre-summit push gathering, which included multiple teams.

Nirmal Purja and his partners Mingma David and Gelje Sherpa hurried to share the event on social media. Mingma G, back from Camp 4 after failing to reach the summit with his Imagine Nepal team, also attended. Chhang Dawa Sherpa of Seven Summit Treks didn’t want to miss it, either. Blind to the optics, many of them shared videos of the jam session on Instagram. As just one example, here is Purja’s:

For Purja, who projects messages of leadership, and Seven Summit Treks with over 100 clients on the mountain, such willfully careless behavior is hard to fathom. Both have COVID victims in their ranks. Purja had Steve Davis evacuated some weeks ago, and Tashi Sherpa told CNN that SST had had at least 30 people flown out with the disease!

The party-goers included several newcomers from Dhaulagiri Base Camp, where COVID decimated the climbing teams. Cases at Dhaulagiri started after the climbers previously on Annapurna arrived after days of celebrating their Annapurna triumph in Pokhara. No post-celebratory COVID tests occurred. Now, some of them have moved to Everest without waiting at least five days (the average time for the virus to show up on tests).

In Kathmandu, Sophie Lavaud had her own birthday party, sans dancing. She was one of those who caught COVID at Dhaulagiri. She is now “recovering slowly, still a strong cough but getting better every day,” she says.

Sophie Lavaud, on the mend from COVID, celebrates a not-so-happy birthday in Kathmandu. Photo: Sophie Lavaud

Jonatan Garcia also confirmed to ExplorersWeb that while he was tested and kept quarantine in Kathmandu, others took no precautions or tests before arriving at Dhaulagiri Base Camp.

In a normal year, parties are normal.

In a normal year, such parties are normal. But this is not a normal year. Nor was this the only party held in Base Camp. However, it is the one clearly involving several teams, whose members had close contact with COVID cases in the last few days.

The overall situation has so spiraled out of control that the Chinese climbers surprisingly fled even from the North Side. Other teams, such as Lukas Furtenbach’s, felt forced to leave the mountain.

Furtenbach shared his thoughts on canceling the expedition in a long post on social media. Now that he is away from Base Camp, he is hiding nothing.

“We tried to do everything right. As right as it can get, running an expedition during a pandemic. We had our safety protocols, we were [climbing] isolated, we were isolated in Base Camp, and we did extensive testing. We were even more careful when the COVID outbreak in Base Camp started, when we heard from the first teams with COVID cases, the government denying these cases, and other teams still having parties.

A call for mass testing ignored

“I was calling for a mass test in Base Camp. The call was ignored. We tested even more, while others never started to test or stopped testing after too many Sherpas or members tested positive.”

A climber is tested for COVID with a nasal swab at Everet Base Camp.

Lukas Furtenbach testing an expedition member. Photo: Furtenbach Adventures

Crucially, Furtenbach warned what can happen when teams start moving up the mountain:

“If we send people up the mountain, clients or Sherpas or guides, who feel well and test negative, they can still be infected and get sick the next day, or after two days, in C3 or C4. COVID is a pulmonary virus. Getting symptomatic in C3 or higher, with fever and breathing problems, can be a problem. A real severe problem, like dying. Because helicopters can’t fly up there.

“I could not live with being responsible for the death of a Sherpa or client because of a COVID infection that became problematic during our summit push. We all know that there is a massive outbreak in Base Camp. All teams. Pilots know, insurance [companies] know, HRA [Himalayan Rescue Association] knows. Still sending people up is negligent from a legal point of view and inhuman from a moral point of view. Our team doctor told me this morning, if we send people up, she is out. Our guides agreed. I agreed. We all did not sleep for two nights. Now we feel relieved. Devastated, but relieved. Because at least our expedition will not be responsible for COVID cases high up on the mountain.”

A member of Mountain Professionals checks his O2 system before setting off toward the summit of Everest. Photo: Mountain Professionals

Meanwhile, another summit push begins

Some teams have begun their final push, concerned only about the uncertain weather. Madison Mountaineering checked in today from Camp 2. They still project May 20, 21 and 22 as possible summit days but they are “reassessing the situation daily”. They plan to set off tomorrow.

Alex Abramov (no-O2) and his Russian teammates, whom some climbers cite in relation to BC parties, hope to summit on May 20. SummitClimb is pondering options. Party-goers Kedrowski and Posner are currently hesitating because of the changeable forecast and the high winds at 8,000m.

Meteorologist Michael Fagin of West Coast Weather broke down the uncertain weather for ExplorersWeb: “A major cyclone tracking along the west coast of India this week will not make a direct hit on Everest,” he explained. “But the cyclone will bring bands of cloud toward Everest on May 18 to May 21. Models differ greatly on possible snowfall amounts. A few suggest that we might see up to 10 inches (25cm) of snow for one or more of those days. But some models show no snow for Everest.”

Weather map ofacyclone in western India

The cyclone along the west coast of India, about to move inland.

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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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F v
F v
27 days ago

Not very kind to your clients who paid you a shitload of money. The only reason i can think of is that they have already had covid and therefore don’t care anymore?

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F v
F v
27 days ago
Reply to  F v

I am also wondering how Covid could affect the K2 / broadpeak season which normally starts in about a month

+1
MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
26 days ago
Reply to  F v

Look at the travel warnings for Pakistan.

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Emma
Emma
25 days ago
Reply to  F v

I cancelled my trip a month ago already. Not the right time to go there now

+1
Lenore Jones
Lenore Jones
25 days ago
Reply to  F v

Are you complaining about Lukas Furtenbach leaving, or about the other companies staying?

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F v
F v
25 days ago
Reply to  Lenore Jones

No, not at all at Furtenbach’s decision, I totally understand it. Safety should always be number one in decision making. My comment was about the party with multiple team leaders.

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MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
27 days ago

Nims like to project his excellent planning and project management skills. But risk management must be part of those things, and his actions here are completely foolish. No respect for him now. As to the others…well it’s exactly what I would expect of Seven Summit Treks.

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

I’ve seen several pics of him with climbers that got his book signed and wondered if they were in his “bubble” or not.

+1
Ian
Ian
27 days ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

I never understood Nimsdai. He posts cringeworthy posts on social media but I have great respect for him because of his superhuman ability, however, with great power comes great responsibility. He seems like a power-hungry and ego-driven individual. I can see how social media has blinded him immensely. This is not a good look for him or his company. I’m sure he’s got some more cringe up his sleeve to defend his actions.

+3
Twinkletoes
Twinkletoes
26 days ago

I guess the people from Nepal, especially the mountain people, are by culture and by force pretty fatalistic about things like disease and death. Plus, as ever, they need tourism as a revenue source, so it’s not surprising they don’t care. As for the foreigners, well. Looks like they’ve decided to come to the playground and now they’re in, they’re gonna play no matter what.

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Marie
Marie
26 days ago
Reply to  Twinkletoes

As a private person, one may well be fatalistic about death and disease, but as a tour organizer anywhere in the world, one is responsible for the safety and welfare of one’s clients. Not to care about this is rather short-sighted too because a bad reputation is bad for business.

+2
MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
26 days ago
Reply to  Twinkletoes

It is not that they don’t care. But they don’t have any good choices. So many sherpa, even very accomplished ones, say they only do that dangerous job to provide for their family. So risking Covid is just one more risk they face to put food on the table and their children in school. Covid is an even bigger tragedy for Nepal’s people than for privileged climbers, because there is little to no healthcare, and no safety net for widows/widowers/orphans. But if you have no good choices, you pick what you think is the least bad choice. But I agree… Read more »

Don Paul
Don Paul
26 days ago

Two SST clients died from exhaustion a week ago, the bodies weren’t brought down or tested for covid. It’s all part of the game.

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Blabla
Blabla
26 days ago
Reply to  Don Paul

This is so far the least deadliest season on Everest that has over a hundred of summits for I don’t know how many years.
Kinda controversial, having in mind the brutal picture Angela’s been trying to enforce throughout the whole season and all the bashing despite the little info she has.
I hope it brings more clicks.
It’s a part of the game I guess.

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MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
26 days ago
Reply to  Blabla

It’s been horrendously deadly for the Khumbu region. The Covid numbers seen so far in Nepal don’t even include cases and deaths from the rural areas, because they aren’t even reported. Are you suggesting that is not worthy of attention by ExWeb?
But re summits: the first weather window was superb, and the sherpa to client ration extremely high for the first groups; the Bahraini Team was 2 sherpas/ per paying client, and 12 canisters of O2 per client. Kind of brings the summit down to the climber.

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Last edited 26 days ago by MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
25 days ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

For the record, Furtenbach said he provides 8 O2 bottles per climber which he thought was more than any other outfitter, as part of his safety protocols. Well that was last year. SST’s VVIP program (which was how SST described the Bahraini Team) provided 50% more than that, 12 bottles per.

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Blabla
Blabla
26 days ago

When I read “Now that he is away from Base Camp, he is hiding nothing.” I kind of wondered how in the world he packed and left basecamp so quickly after announcing he is calling off his expedition.
I watched a video from today on Alan Arnette’s blog with him still being at Base Camp and got my answer.
This Everest season’s coverage has all been about “SHOCKING, BREAKING, COVID” and not so much about the facts.

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Marie
Marie
25 days ago
Reply to  Blabla

You are probably a bit angry that you got a rebuke earlier on for critizising AB the whole time under another nickname. We got your point, please stop now. The season was not deadly like others when it comes to climbers, because most of the summits are still to come, and because of the advent of helicopter taxiing. Mark my words, although I hope that I am wrong.

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Blabla
Blabla
25 days ago
Reply to  Marie

“Now that he is away from Base Camp, he is hiding nothing.”
What is that? The guy is still there. How could he depart in such a quick time – like, hours literally, having in mind heli is the only way out and he has 60 men team and tons of equipment on site?
Isn’t that obvious mistake in this article worth pointing out or whoever does is watever I am now?

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Marie
Marie
25 days ago
Reply to  Blabla

I would not take the phrase “away from Base Camp” literally. It just means that now that he has decided to leave BC, he can speak openly. If he had decided to stay AND reveal all of that, he would have lost all his credibility for staying in spite of the facts, wouldn’t he?

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Blabla
Blabla
24 days ago
Reply to  Marie

Sorry, it’s not a plum, it’s a peach.
“Now that he is away from Base Camp” means what it means.

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