All mountaineers are the equal, but some mountaineers are more equal than others – one could say freely after George Orwell’s novel “Animal Farm”. Actually, the Nepalese government had declared that, due to the recent sharp increase in corona infections, only Nepalese returnees, diplomats and employees of UN aid organizations would be allowed to fly to the country from 1 September . There was no mention of foreign tourists – and these usually include mountaineers. This fall’s climbing in the Himalayas seemed to be over before it began.
However, this week a government spokesperson in Kathmandu suddenly declared that an 18-member expedition from Bahrain had received a permit for the eight-thousander Manaslu and – for the purpose of acclimatization – for the six-thousander Lobuche East near Mount Everest. The team of the Royal Guard of Bahrain will arrive in Kathmandu in mid-September on a charter flight, enter a one-week quarantine and then head for the mountains, it said.
But Holecek’s statement on his sponsor’s website that it was “the first ascent of the 2,000 m high grueling Northwest Face climbing Alpine style” is only correct if “complete” is added before the word “ascent”. Because already 30 years ago two German mountaineers climbed the Northwest Face – at least up to 6,600 meters, in order to ascend from there via the West Face to the summit. They were also climbing in Alpine style.
The son of Everest first ascender Tenzing Norgay is outraged. “This is very disgraceful that a falsified summitter of Everest is being given the highest adventure award of India,” writes Jamling Tenzing Norgay to me. “Shameful!”
The hope of the Nepalese tourism industry for the upcoming fall season in trekking and mountaineering is fading away. After the government in Kathmandu had postponed the planned resumption of flights to and within Nepal from 17 August to 1 September 1, it announced a few days ago that the number of people entering the Himalayan state would be limited to 500 per day. Only Nepalese who were stuck in other countries because of the corona pandemic, expats, diplomats and employees of international aid organizations would be allowed to enter the country. There was no mention of foreign tourists in the government’s announcement. They will have to stay out until further notice.
Three Czechs want to remove a white spot on the map of the world’s highest mountains. Pavel Korinek, Pavel Bem and Jiri Janak arrived in Pakistan to first climb the seven-thousander Muchu Chhish. “We are happy to be here, after all the troubles caused by the COVID pandemic around the globe,” Bem said after arriving in Islamabad (see the video below): “We hope we have a good luck, Inshallah!”The three climbers now want to acclimatize first in the north of the country. Up to two summit attempts in Alpine style are then planned for late August, early September.
His girlfriend at the time hardly recognized him. “It seems that a drunk came down from the col and not the same man who left four days ago,” Nena Holguin wrote in her diary. “He looks at me with tears in his eyes. His face is yellow, his lips are chapped and frayed.” Reinhold Messner was all run down, physically and mentally too. This alpinistic stroke of genius had demanded everything from him.
Again he had pushed a limit, made possible what others had thought impossible. In the middle of the monsoon, the South Tyrolean had scaled Mount Everest via the Tibetan north side: climbing solo, without bottled oxygen, on a partially new route: Messner crossed the north flank below the Northeast Ridge, then ascended through the Norton Couloir and finally reached the highest point at 8,850 meters in the afternoon of 20 August 1980, the third day of his ascent.
For a long time, the first man to climb all 14 eight-thousanders described the Everest solo as the “icing on the cake” of his mountaineering career. Now, four decades later, Reinhold Messner classifies his pioneering achievement differently. I spoke with the 75-year-old.
Reinhold Messner, do you still sometimes think of that 20 August 1980, when you reached the summit of Mount Everest after you had solo-climbed it?
One of the best-known famous Nepalese climbers, Chhiji Nurbu Sherpa, is no longer with us. “We are extremely saddened to express the demise of our managing director”, the company “Highlight Expeditions” announced yesterday on Facebook: “He was one of the top climbers accomplishing 13 out of the 14 x 8000m summits.” The expedition operator did not mention the cause of death. Chhiji Nurbu turned 40 years old. He leaves behind a wife, a son and a daughter.
“I have a less queasy feeling than when I book a seven-day hut tour in the Alps, knowing that I will meet different people every day,” Felix Berg, who I reach by phone in the small town of Karimabad in the Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan, tells me. The 39-year-old German professional mountaineer, working for the operator Summit Climb, leads the first foreign expedition team to Pakistan since the outbreak of the corona pandemic. The governments of the European Union continue to warn “against unnecessary tourist trips to Pakistan”. Berg considers this to be exaggerated and points out that Pakistan is no longer on the list of countries with an increased risk of infection in the non-EU country Switzerland.
The fall mountaineering season in Nepal can – if at all – only start later. According to unanimous reports in the Nepalese media, the government in Kathmandu postponed the reopening for flights to and within Nepal until 1 September at the earliest. The reason was the increasing number of infections with the coronavirus, it was said. So far (as of 11 August), more than 23,000 cases have been registered in the Himalayan state, 83 people have died of COVID-19. The number of unreported cases is likely to be significantly higher.
The international mountaineering scene is shocked. Doug Scott, the living legend of climbing in the Himalayas and the Karakoram, is terminally ill with brain cancer. The 79-year-old Englishman has an inoperable cerebral lymphoma, the “Sunday Times” reported this weekend, referring to Scott’s wife Patricia. Doug received the diagnosis on the first day of the corona lockdown in Great Britain in mid-March, according to the Times. Since then, he has been staying on the ground floor of his house in the Lake District of Cumbria County.
Mingma Gyalje Sherpa is fed up. He doesn’t want to wait any longer for the government in Kathmandu to get going. The head of the Nepalese operator Imagine Nepal canceled the expeditions to the eight-thousanders Manaslu and Dhaulagiri planned for this fall season. “The Nepal government ended a three months lockdown without proper planning and resulted in a rapid increase of corona cases in Nepal,” Mingma explained his decision on Facebook. “The international airport will be opened from 17 August 2020 but there is no guideline prepared yet. We are still not sure if it is obligatory to stay 14 days in quarantine or not.”
When they reached Everest Base Camp, Julie and Chris Smith had a sip of Scotch whisky. Apart from the couple from Scotland, their two children – the nine-year-old daughter Erihn and the four-year-old son Jacob – and their Nepalese companions Kevin Sherpa and Dhanku Rai, nobody else was then at this point at almost 5,400 meters, the destination of one of the most popular trekking routes in the world.
The corona pandemic had made the hike of the Scottish Smith family an exclusive adventure. Julie, Chris and their children had been stuck in Lukla for three months before the lockdown in Nepal was eased a bit and Kevin Sherpa could organize the necessary papers for the family to continue their trek.
Everest trek after three months in lockdown
When they had just started their trekking tour to Everest Base Camp in the village of Salleri in the Solukhumbu mid-March, the pandemic reached the Himalayan state: The government of Nepal imposed a lockdown. The Smiths hiked on to Lukla, which was their final destination until the end of June. Then they were allowed to continue their trip
About one year ago, at the end of July 2019, the family from Aberdeen had set off for their lifetime trip which had finally taken them to Nepal via Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, the Middle East and India. In their Facebook blog “Clan Wander” the Smiths have been reporting about their adventures.
Meanwhile, 46-year-old Julie, her 41-year-old husband Chris and the two children are on their way back from Everest Base Camp through the Khumbu region. They also made a side trip to the Gokyo valley. I have reached the couple from Scotland by email.
“(The) Mountains are open for this year’s autumn season,” said Mira Acharya, director of the Tourism Department in the Nepalese government. From this Thursday, permits will again be issued for 414 mountains in Nepal, including Mount Everest, with 75 mountains remaining closed, she said.
On 13 March, the government had announced that it would no longer issue permits for the time being because of the corona pandemic. The spring season in Nepal had been completely canceled, also on the south side of Everest. On the north side of the mountain, the Sino-Tibetan authorities had only issued permits for a single Chinese expedition that reached the world’s highest peak in late May.
It looked like an attempt to cut the Gordian knot. Last week, the government in Kathmandu announced that flights to Nepal and in the country would be resumed from 17 August. Trekking tours and expeditions will then also be permitted again – subject to safety precautions. But many question marks remain. How many flights will be allowed and from which countries? The Ministry of Tourism has so far been rather vague in its statement that tourists whose home countries are not strongly affected by the pandemic may come first. And then, what happens next? Is it enough for tourists to present a current negative COVID-19 test on arrival or will they have to be tested at Kathmandu airport? Will the current 14-day quarantine remain in place? What happens in case of an infection in Nepal? My inquiry to the Ministry of Tourism has not been answered yet.