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

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