Every year, there’s an extremely-limited window of time in which Mt. Everest is most forgiving of climbers when winter is in the rear-view mirror and before the summer rainy season. Preparations for the climbing season, which include local guides mapping out the best possible routes for the year’s climbing season, would ordinarily get underway right about this time or perhaps a little later. By May, the mountain would be hosting climbers.
That won’t be the case this season, however.
Nepalese Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai said that “climbing this season has been closed,” referring to Everest, as well as the other Himalayan peaks. Bhattarai confirmed that the closure is a “precaution” against coronavirus.
Health experts are telling people to avoid close contact with one another, and in particular, to avoid areas where there are large crowds. In most cases, the idea of mountain-climbing wouldn’t necessarily call to mind large crowds. But that’s not the case on Mt. Everest. So popular is the world’s highest mountain with climbers that, on some days during the brief climbing window, hundreds of climbers are lined up in long bottlenecks. This obviously puts people in close proximity in an already dangerous situation, especially if the weather turns and the mountain needs to be evacuated.
Hundreds of foreign climbers, many of whom have already put down hefty deposits on the expensive adventure, or indeed paid for it in full, are now left in the lurch.
“This is disappointing news for both our expedition leaders and our clients who have trained for months for this year’s climb,” said Lukas Furtenbach, of California’s guiding company Furtenbach Adventure.
However, Adrian Ballinger, of Alpenglow Expeditions, said he understands why Nepal made the decision.
“While cancelling a climb is never an outcome we want, this time, it’s the responsible thing to do,” he said.
The closure will cost Nepal an estimated $4.4 million in tourism dollars. Further, the closure will mean that the local Sherpa tribespeople, many of whom make most of their wages for the year during climbing season, won’t have that income.
Across the border between Nepal and China-controlled Tibet — a border which runs across Mt. Everest — China has closed its side of the mountain, dashing any hopes of climbers trying to find another route up from another country.
Nepal, which has a population of 29,000,000, has only one confirmed coronavirus case, that of a student who had returned home after studying in China.