KATHMANDU, Nepal – A major mountaineering company abandoned its expedition to Mount Everest, dismantling its tents at base camp on Saturday after members of its team tested positive for the coronavirus.
An American climber and three Sherpa guides from a 51-person expedition were evacuated from base camp and hospitalized in Kathmandu, according to Ang Tendi Sherpa, general manager of the local agency that obtained the permit for the expedition.
“The rest of the climbers didn’t feel safe,” said Mr. Sherpa. “That’s why the expedition was canceled.”
A second wave of coronavirus is ravaging Nepal, overwhelming its weak health care system. Authorities reported 8,167 new cases and 187 deaths on Saturday.
On the peaks, the spread of the virus is unclear, but signs of trouble are growing.
As of this month, hundreds of foreign mountaineers, Sherpas and other support personnel lived at the high-altitude Everest base camp, preparing for an ascent to the highest peak. of the world. According to Lukas Furtenbach, managing director of Furtenbach Adventures, which organized the canceled expedition, more and more of them are showing symptoms of Covid and are testing positive with rapid antigen tests carried out by three Nepalese government doctors stationed in the base camp.
Mr Furtenbach estimated that up to 150 people at the base camp had tested positive, although the number was impossible to verify as no central authority was following.
Anyone who is infected “at high altitudes and then develops symptoms and becomes ill is very difficult to help,” Furtenbach said. “We are not taking this risk, which is why our shipment is stopped immediately.”
The Furtenbach Adventures expedition is the first to be canceled on Everest, although other climbers have left base camp independently, he said. Several climbers had previously been airlifted to hospitals in Kathmandu, according to accounts on social media and hospitals where some were treated.
The summit of Everest can be reached from Nepal or from China. China on Friday canceled all of its Everest shipments over concerns about the virus spreading in Nepal.
Nepal’s tourism department has repeatedly said that no one has tested positive at Everest base camp on their side. They insist that antivirus protections imposed before the climbing season worked.
Mr Furtenbach, however, said that in some cases social distancing standards were all but ignored.
“Basic precautionary measures have simply not been followed,” he said. “There were meetings between the teams, there were celebrations, parties took place.”
Tourism official Mira Acharya again challenged reports of infection from climbers on Saturday, saying she had recently returned from base camp and that none of her 35-member team had contracted the virus. . She said the Nepalese government has no plans to cancel the shipments.
“Some climbers who cannot climb Everest are now canceling expeditions under the guise of Covid,” she said.
After losing an entire season – and millions in revenue – to the closure of Everest in the first wave of the pandemic in Nepal last spring, the country issued a record number of climbing permits this year. More than 400 people were hoping to reach the summit in the narrow window in the spring when the weather is generally calm enough to attempt a summit.
The first successful summit of the season took place on May 7. This week, two climbers, a Swiss-Pakistani and an American, died in the air near the summit of Everest. Officials immediately ruled out Covid. Due to the distant location of the bodies, no autopsy was scheduled.