Virus fails to deter hundreds of mountaineers on Mount Everest

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) – A year after Mount Everest was closed to climbers as the pandemic swept the world, hundreds are making the final push to the top with just a few more days into the season, claiming that ‘They are not deterred by a coronavirus outbreak in the base camp.

Three Everest expedition teams canceled their ascent this month following reports of people falling ill. But the remaining 41 teams have decided to continue with hundreds of climbers and their guides climbing the 8,849-meter (29,032-foot) summit during the season that ends in May, before bad weather sets in.

“Even though the coronavirus reached Everest base camp, it didn’t have a huge effect like what is thought outside the mountain,” said Mingma Sherpa of Seven Summit Treks, the largest expedition operator on Everest. “No one has really gotten seriously ill from COVID or died like the rumors that have spread.”

With 122 clients from 10 teams on Everest, the company ran the largest group, but there was no serious illness among them, he said.

Nepalese officials have played down reports of coronavirus cases on Mount Everest, apparently out of concern to create chaos and confusion in the base camp. After a sabbatical year with no income for mountaineers, Nepal is looking forward to enjoying this year’s season.

“Many people went to the base camp and it is possible that the people who went there from here were infected,” Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli said. “But that doesn’t mean it (the coronavirus) has reached the whole mountain, maybe part of base camp or the area below.”

In April, a Norwegian mountaineer became the first to test positive at Everest base camp. He was taken by helicopter to Kathmandu, where he was treated and then returned home.

Prominent Austrian guide Lukas Furtenbach decided to stop his expedition this month and withdraw clients due to an outbreak among team members.

After returning from the mountain, Furtenbach estimated that more than 100 climbers and support staff were infected. He said in an interview last week that it was evident that there were many cases at the base camp because he could see people were sick and could hear them coughing in their tents.

“I think with all of the confirmed cases that we know now – confirmed by (rescue) pilots, insurance companies, doctors, expedition leaders – I have the positive tests so we can prove it,” Furtenbach told The Associated Press.

China last week canceled its climb on its side of Everest over fears the virus could spread from Nepal.

The climbing season has been accompanied by a devastating spike in coronavirus cases in Nepal, with a record number of infections and deaths daily. Nepal reported 6,951 new confirmed cases and 96 deaths on Friday, bringing the country’s totals since the start of the pandemic to more than 549,111 infections and 7,047 deaths.

Another expedition, led by Telluride, Colorado-based Mountain Trip, also announced it was withdrawing from Everest.

“While this is a difficult decision to make considering all of the work, years of preparation, sacrifice and resources that went into the expedition, it is the only reasonable outcome from a risk management, ”the company said.

Six Sherpa guides working for the company were evacuated to Kathmandu with symptoms of COVID-19, he said.

A total of 408 foreign climbers have received permits to climb Everest this season, aided by several hundred Sherpas and support staff who have been stationed at base camp since April.

Since the conquest of Everest on May 29, 1953, thousands of people have climbed the summit and many Nepalese Sherpas have done so repeatedly. Veteran Sherpa guide Kami Rita has climbed the summit for a 25th time this month.

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