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Coronavirus: Chinese explorers start Everest climb amid pandemic

By Navin Singh Khadka

A group of Chinese mountaineers has begun an expedition on Everest while the site is closed to foreign climbers because of coronavirus.

Only Chinese climbers are permitted this spring season because of the pandemic, operators told the BBC.

The highest peak of the world stands on the border of China and Nepal and can be climbed from both sides.

China has closed its side to foreign climbers while Nepal has cancelled all expeditions in response to Covid-19.

The disease first emerged in central China three months ago. Around 3,300 people have so far died in the country after becoming infected.

China says it has now all but stopped the spread of the disease and the authorities have started to allow some access to Wuhan, the city in Hubei province where the outbreak began.

The more than two dozen Chinese climbers tackling Mount Everest were expected to reach the advanced base camp at an altitude of 6,450 metres (four miles) on Friday, expedition operators in touch with the China Tibet Mountaineering Association (CTMA) said.

CTMA officials could not be reached for comment.

Mountaineering record-keepers say that if the climbers make it to the summit, it would be a very rare case of only Chinese climbers at the peak.

“In Spring 1960, only the Chinese reached the summit. The Indians tried, but failed,” said Richard Salisbury, with the Himalayan Database, an organisation that keeps records of all expeditions in the Himalayas.

“There were various Chinese recon, research and training climbs from 1958 through 1967 when nobody else was on the mountain, but no ascents by any of them.”

Western expedition operators said China did not allow them to climb this spring season due to fears over a new outbreak of the virus.

“It is reasonable that they do not want to take the risk to let people from all over the world, where the coronavirus crisis is in full swing, into Tibet to gather in base camp,” said Lukas Furtenbach, an Austrian climber and guide whose team was initially supposed to climb from the Chinese side.

“As long as there is no quick and reliable antibody testing available, it is a wise decision to minimise risk and only have their own people that they can take into quarantine before climbing.”

Some expedition teams, including Mr Furtenbach’s, were preparing to switch over to the Nepalese side but Nepal too cancelled all expedition permits.

The Chinese mountaineers will now be climbing up and down the mountain between camps to acclimatise themselves with the high altitude before making the final push for the summit. It will take them at least one month.

Climbers wait for the right weather window for the summit climb. Summiting usually happens before the end of May, when the south-west Indian Monsoon arrives in the region.

The Chinese side of Everest sees fewer climbers compared to the southern side in Nepal. Climbers can drive right up to the base camp on the Chinese side, whereas in Nepal it is a 10-day trek through the Khumbu valley.

“Even from the base camp, they ride yaks to reach the advance base camp,” says Ang Thsering Sherpa, a veteran mountaineer in Nepal.

“It’s a very different experience of climbing on the northern side, compared to the Nepalese side.”

In recent years, avalanches, fast melting glaciers, and other global warming-related changes are said to have made climbing more challenging

Navin Singh Khadka is Environment correspondent, BBC World Service.

Adventure

Nepali climbers scale Mt Aconcagua promoting Visit Nepal 2020

KATHMANDU: At least four Nepali climbers have successfully scaled the highest peak in South America expressing their commitment to make the ‘Visit Nepal-2020’ campaign a success.

“We reached the summit of Mount Aconcagua on January 4 carrying a banner of Visit Nepal-2020,” Tashi Lakpa Sherpa, team leader of the Seven Summit Expedition, told media.

 

Along with Tashi Lakpa, Karma Tenzing Sherpa, Halung Dorchi Sherpa, and Satish Man Pati stood atop the 6,962-metre peak where over 50 world climbers joined the team to promote the ‘Visit Nepal-2020’ campaign.

“This is the first time the world climbers joined Nepali team to celebrate Christmas, New Year and the Nepal’s national tourism campaign on the summit of the highest peak out of Asia,” Tashi Lakpa, who holds a world record of the youngest person to climb Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen, shared. “We have also urged the world climbers to return to Nepal in 2020.”

With the successful ascent of Mount Aconcagua, Tashi Lakpa, on his mission to scale all seven highest peaks in all seven continents, completed his fifth mountain this winter. He has to climb two more peaks – Mount Vinson in Antarctica and Mount Carstenz pyramid in Australia – to achieve the feat. The Managing Director of Seven Summit Treks has already climbed Mt Everest, Denali, Elbrus and Kilimanjaro.

Adventure

Traffic jams making Everest deadly

The reward for climbers who ascend Mount Everest is a view like none other, an expansive vista of the Himalayas from the highest point on the planet. On Wednesday, those who made it to the top saw something else: Hundreds of other climbers.

The final leg of their journey to the summit was a traffic jam of trekkers enticed by good weather, the route clogged by a single-file march of 250 to 300 people along a precarious cliff that caused delays of about three hours.

Nirmal Purja, who photographed the scene, was among the climbers who scaled the peak on Wednesday, despite what he described as “heavy traffic”.

Everest graphic

The long, winding line to the peak added another element of risk to what is already one of the most dangerous mountains, raising the possibility of frostbite and oxygen depletion. At least two climbers died after having reached the summit on Wednesday, and their deaths may have been related to the delays.

Donald Cash, 54, an American, died after collapsing on the mountain following an unusually long summit, according to Pioneer Adventures, a Kathmandu-based organisation that leads expeditions on Everest.

Cash was traveling with Sherpa guides from Pioneer Adventures, the organisation said, and fainted from altitude sickness. He could not be revived by the Sherpas.

The other fatality, Anjali Kulkarni, 54, an Indian, collapsed while returning from the summit with her husband, according to Arun Treks and Expedition, which led the trip.

“Due to the huge traffic yesterday and the delay in being able to return back, she couldn’t maintain her energy,” said Phupden Sherpa, the tour group’s manager.

Sherpa, who recalled similar episodes in 2017 that resulted in climber deaths, said it took the group an additional three hours to return to camp, a wait that he believes contributed to her death. Several of the climbers with Kulkarni returned to their camp with frostbite and other injuries.

Nivesh Karki, the manager of Pioneer Adventures, attributed the congestion at the summit to good weather. The frequently changing conditions mean that there is often only a small window of time for climbing, so on Wednesday, more groups than usual chose to push ahead rather than wait and risk harsh weather. “It was such a clear day, everyone was rushing to the summit,” he said.

“Once the weather is bad, no one can summit. So in good weather, everyone will try to go for the summit.”

Karki said the crowding on the mountain increased the peril for all climbers, even under normal circumstances. Two climbers are believed to have died on Everest last week: An Indian man was found dead in his tent and an Irishman went missing after a fall.

“This is a huge problem because the route is already dangerous, and there is always risk,” he said. “And a lot of traffic makes the journey quite difficult.”

But despite the risks, Everest has grown increasingly crowded. In 2018, a record number of climbers made it to the summit, according to figures from Alan Arnette, who chronicles the journeys of climbers on the mountain on his blog. 

Three Indian climbers have died on Nepal’s Mount Everest this week, bringing the death toll this season on the world’s highest peak to six.

Nihal Bagwan, an Indian climber who was part of a two-member expedition, died at camp four after descending from the summit late on Thursday, expedition organiser Babu Sherpa said on Friday.

“He reached the summit at 8am [02:15 GMT], but lost his energy while descending. So four Sherpa guides brought him back to the lower camp, where he died inside the tent,” Babu told media

Kalpana Das, a 53-year-old woman from India, who was part of a three-nation women’s expedition team, also died on Thursday, said Meera Acharya, an official at the department of tourism.

Anjali Kulkarni, 53, who was returning from the summit of Everest with her husband Sharad Kulkarni, died during her descent on Wednesday, according to Acharya.

Earlier this month, a US climber and an Indian mountaineer had died on their descent from Everest. An Irish climber who went missing is presumed dead on the mountain.

Babu, the managing director of Peak Promotion, said overcrowding had congested the route from camp 4 to the top.

“There were only short weather windows and everyone was trying to climb at once,” he said.