Will China Open For Climbing in 2023? It’s Not Certain

Shishapangma and Cho Oyu have become a thorn for 14×8,000m climbers since China closed its borders during COVID. In recent weeks, rumors suggested that the two might open next spring. Some outfitters have even started offering trips to them and Everest’s North Side. But it is far from clear that this opening will happen.

Climbers chasing speed or age records are struggling against both the clock and the country’s strict zero-COVID policies. The most prominent recent case has been Kristin Harila of Norway. After flawlessly summiting 12 8,000’ers in six months, her quest came to an abrupt halt when she failed to get a Chinese permit for Shishapangma and Cho Oyu, as Nirmal Purja had done. In fact, Purja’s team, which included Mingma David, Gelje Sherpa, and Gesman Tamang, were the last foreign climbers allowed in Tibet.

tents at the feet of a huge snow ramp and Cho Oyu summit area above it.

Sunrise at Cho Oyu’s Camp 2, on the normal route from Tibet. Photo: Dallas Glass/International Mountain Guides

 

Harila to start all over again

“At first I simply couldn’t believe it, I was so angry,” Harila told ExplorersWeb.

Back home, she has had some days to recover and reset. She plans to start all over again, from the beginning. To avoid another disappointment, she wants to begin with Cho Oyu and Shishapangma. Odds seem good that these will open, “but you can’t be never sure until you are actually there,” Harila said.

Harila in a helicopter

Kristin Harila. Photo: Kristin Harila/Facebook

 

The two Sherpa climbers who accompanied Harila throughout 2022, Dawa Ongchu and Pasdawa Sherpa, have the same two peaks remaining before completing their quests. However, Pasdawa’s resumé is not completely clean, according to 8000ers.com, since he flew by helicopter to a higher camp on Kangchenjunga.

Sirbaz Khan of Pakistan is also keen to climb Cho Oyu and Shishapangma as soon as possible, although he failed to reach Manaslu’s true summit this past fall, so would still have one remaining.

Happy birthday, Gelje Sherpa!

Gelje Sherpa wants to beat Mingma David’s age record on the 14×8,000’ers and has only Cho Oyu to go. At 30 years and 5 months, Mingma David currently holds the record as the youngest. Gelje turns 30 tomorrow, so has five months left to climb Cho Oyu — in other words, by mid-April 2023. Gelje has already attempted Cho Oyu twice from Nepal — last winter, and last month.

The clibmers smile to the camera with caps and sunglases in an unidentified Base Camp.

Adriana Brownlee and Gelje Sherpa. Photo: 14×8000.com

 

Gelje climbs with the real frontrunner to become the youngest 8,000’er summiter, Adriana Brownlee. Just 21, she has both Gasherbrums and the two Tibetan peaks remaining. She should also climb to Manaslu’s true summit, which she attempted unsuccessfully this fall.

Uncertainty about Shishapangma

Naoko Watanabe of Japan and Nepali guide Mingma G have only Shishapangma left on their list. Mingma G has actually announced an Imagine Nepal expedition to Shishapangma in spring 2023. Yet contacted by ExplorersWeb, he admits that he is not positive it will happen.

“We are still waiting for news,” he says. “COVID-19 is still creating problems in China, and some cities are still under lockdown.”

Imagine Nepal’s Shishapangma expedition banner.

 

At least, today there was good news: China has dialed back some COVID measures, including shorter quarantines for foreign travelers. Fatigue in China over restrictions may have finally moved the needle slightly, the BBC reports.

Everest North Side

Chinese climbers are also impatiently waiting to climb their “home” mountains. Dong Hong-Juan has only Shishapangma to go, but as far as we know, there have been no expeditions here or to Cho Oyu since COVID.

The most visited 8,000’er in Tibet is not Cho Oyu or Shishapangma. It’s Everest North Side. Some Chinese managed to climb Everest from Tibet in 2020 and 2022. They had to follow strict safety protocols, and their expeditions generally included science projects. It is not unlikely that if China decides to open only partially, Everest may be the lone test case.

three climbers in red down suits stand in front of snow-covered tents and the mightly north face of Everest in background.

Members of the Alpenglow team under the North Face of Everest some seasons ago. Photo: Alpenglow

 

So far, Furtenbach Adventures and Alpenglow Expeditions have tentative plans to bring clients to Everest North Side.

“We are seeing hopeful signs regarding reopening and are so excited,” Alpenglow’s Adrian Ballinger said last month.

Lukas Furtenbach also has high expectations. “We are confident that we will be allowed to run an expedition on the North Side next year, assuming that the COVID situation in China allows it,” he told ExplorersWeb.

Furtenbach will also operate on the Nepal side of Everest, so those opting for the Tibetan route will have options if their first choice falls through.

Whatever happens, confirmation likely won’t come any time soon. Expeditions will have to be last-minute and may involve quarantines and other conditions. While the West seems to have returned to semi-normal, the ongoing situation in China will likely lead to a rather lonely climbing season, if any, in Tibet.

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides is a college-graduated journalist specializing in high-altitude mountaineer and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.