Himalaya: Climbers, Sherpas Grapple With Closure

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Those are the five stages of grief, according to Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. And most Himalayan climbers who had their backpacks filled and their plane tickets in their pockets are currently going through one of them. The decision made yesterday by Nepal’s government to close down all mountains to foreign climbers has shattered the mountaineering community. There are unconfirmed rumors that the trekking season has also been closed.

Although this is a first-world problem, as Kilian Jornet points out, the decision will also have crushing economic consequences for ordinary Nepalis. As of 2018, tourism made up almost eight percent of the country’s GDP and created more than a million jobs. Shutting down an entire industry that everyone had counted for financial support is, especially in the Khumbu and Annapurna regions, a catastrophe.

But grieving for a canceled (or postponed) dream is nothing compared with the real grief of losing a loved one. “It’s the responsible decision,” said Adrian Ballinger of AlpenGlow. “Climbing a mountain is not worth the risk of transmission in Base Camps.” In fact, no foreign outfitter or climber has complained about the call.

Austria’s mountain refuges are closed during the coronavirus crisis. Photo: Österreicher Alpenverein


Sergi Mingote, aiming to summit the 14x8000ers without supplementary oxygen in record time, was to set off for Annapurna and Makalu on March 28. He says that his plans will be postponed but not cancelled. “I had quite of a shock yesterday, but today I am already rescheduling,” he told ExplorersWeb. “I am just anxious for Nepal’s people; the economic impact will be terrible.”

Mingote hopes that the situation will improve in time for the Karakorum season and his attempt on Gasherbrum II. “Then, hopefully, in the fall, I will climb one or two of the Tibetan 8,000’ers and maybe one in Nepal,” he said. He later aired his thoughts (in Spanish):


But what will happen with the trekkers and climbers already in Nepal? For example, Slovaks Peter Hamor and Michal Sabovčík, along with Romanians Horia Colibasanu and Mario Gant, returned to open a new route on Dhaulagiri’s Northwest Face, after an unsuccessful attempt at it last year.

Hamor flew to Nepal on March 8 and reached Namche Bazaar yesterday. Earlier today, he reported no problems with acclimatization and was confident that the expedition would proceed. Not only has that notion ended, but like so many non-climbing travelers, Hamor may have difficulty returning home because of cancelled flights and the confusion since Slovakia has closed its borders to non-residents.

Happier times: Peter Hamor leaving Slovakia to open a new route on Dhaulagiri. Photo: Peter Hamor


So, will there be no climbs at all in the Himalaya? None for foreigners. It remains to be seen whether some Nepali team will climb a mountain by themselves. In Tibet, Everest is similarly closed to foreigners but as Mingma G pointed out recently, Chinese teams will be allowed to climb. In fact, Yarla Shampo Expeditions (the only authorized operator for Chinese teams, according to Mingma) has started preparations.

Meanwhile, European mountain huts are closing in the Alps and elsewhere. Rescue patrols are asking everyone to #stayathome. Italy’s National Corps of Alpine Rescue explained that if someone had an accident, a rescue would involve about a dozen people who otherwise would be assisting in the coronavirus crisis, and the victim might have trouble getting treatment in overwhelmed hospitals operated by exhausted medical personnel.

Kilian Jornet, by the way, has opened a section on his website titled Summits At Home, streaming all his movies for free. Further climbers are coming up with similar stay-at-home ideas: tutorials, videos, articles, etc. to improve the morale of those deciding not to travel for the common good.

Frame from Kilian Jornet’s documentary, Summits of my Life.


Those living in areas of the world where the disease is not yet widespread may still climb, trek and ski at home. But let me add my personal two cents: I’m a Madrid resident, and eight days ago I was planning another ski-touring weekend in the Pyrenees. Currently, I’m quarantined at home after 48 worrying hours of feeling short of breath and unable to get a doctor, a COVID-19 test or any advice from the nearly collapsed health care system. Guys, it might be wise to be conservative and not make long-distance or long-term plans. Things are changing at an amazing speed.

Ski ace Andrej Bargiel has canceled plans to ski Everest this spring and stayed at home to read. Photo: Andrej Vargiel

Related story:

Nepal Closes All Mountains, Including Everest