Sometimes he attacks his victims, sometimes he creeps up on them – death has many faces. In January, Italian climber Simone Moro barely managed to get away from him. On Gasherbrum I, the 52-year-old fell 20 meters deep into a crevasse. His partner Tamara Lunger from South Tyrol was able to break the fall with a rope. After two hours Simone crawled back over the edge of the crevasse. Both suffered minor injuries, ended their winter expedition and returned to Italy.
What Moro would experience in his hometown Bergamo in this March, he could not yet guess. Bergamo currently represents the deadly danger from the corona virus worldwide: In the province around the northern Italian city currently between 100 and 120 people die every day of the Covid-19 virus. Simone is in South Tyrol, where he answered my questions.
Simone, the most important question in these days of the corona virus first: How are you?
Nepal is also sealing itself off because of the Corona crisis. Freedom of movement was restricted throughout the country for an initial week. As of today, only those who absolutely have to go to work, shop or see a doctor are allowed to move outside the door. The borders to India and China remain closed, only goods transports are allowed to pass through. The airspace over Nepal is closed for international and domestic flights. An exception is made for aircraft of the security forces.
The Himalayan mountains in Nepal and Tibet are closed to foreign mountaineers this spring due to the corona pandemic. For the same reason no expedition permits will be issued for Denali in Alaska, the highest mountain in North America (6,190 m), and the nearby Mount Foraker (5,304 m) in 2020. This was announced last Friday by the Denali National Park Service. The season there usually lasts from the end of April to mid-July.
Whether expeditions to the 8,611-meter-high K2, the second highest mountain on earth, and the four other eight-thousanders in Pakistan will be possible next summer is currently uncertain. As of today, due to the corona crisis a lockdown is in force until further notice in the northern Pakistani province of Gilgit-Baltistan, where the country’s highest mountains are located. Paramilitary forces have been asked to check whether the regulations are being observed, a member of the provincial government announced. Passenger traffic between the province’s cities has also been suspended.
Actually, the ski mountaineer Carlalberto, called “Cala” Cimenti had wanted to travel to Nepal this spring. Together with expedition leader Felix Berg from the operator “Summit Climb” and two other German mountaineers, the 44-year-old Italian had planned a summit trilogy in the region around Makalu: first up to Mera Peak (6,476 m), then to Baruntse (7,129 m), and finally to Makalu, (8,485 m), the fifth highest mountain on earth. Now Cala lies sick in his bed at home. He is one of currently more than 41,000 Italians (status quo 19 March, 8 pm CET) who have tested positive for the corona virus. The doctors diagnosed Cimenti with pneumonia, but sent him home from the hospital – with medication and the advice to call if things got worse.
Despite the restrictions resulting from the corona pandemic, Mount Everest will apparently not remain completely deserted this spring. There is growing evidence that a Chinese expedition will approach the highest mountain on earth from the Tibetan north side. According to the Kathmandu-based newspaper „The Himalayan Times“, at least 26 mountaineers from China, including six women, will attempt to climb Everest.
I just went shopping at a supermarket. I wanted to buy a kilo of flour. There was a sign on the pallet saying that each customer could only take a maximum of four packages. But not a single one was left there. Three checkouts were open, long lines formed in front of them. Most of the customers had filled their shopping trolleys to the top. Panic in Germany in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. As I stood in line at the checkout, I thought of Nepal. Many people there already lack the most necessary things. How will they survive the corona crisis?
The spring climbing season in the Himalayas is over before it has begun. After the Chinese-Tibetan authorities announced that they would not issue permits for the Tibetan north side of Mount Everest and other mountains to foreign expedition teams this spring, the Nepalese government has now pulled the rip cord too. Due to the global spread of the coronavirus, no permits will be issued for expeditions to Everest and the other high mountains of Nepal from March 14 to April 30, the government in Kathmandu announced. The already issued climbing permits are invalid. It is understood that the regulation also applies to trekking tours.
Even if the decree was withdrawn at the beginning of May, the remaining time for expeditions would be too short. The season finishes at the end of May due to the start of the monsoon season.
The Chinese-Tibetan authorities have closed the Tibetan north side of Mount Everest for this spring season. This I learned from a reliable source. The decision is official, it is said. This had already been indicated in the past weeks.
The Tibetans had advised the expedition teams to travel to the north side of Everest via Kathmandu rather than via the Chinese airport in Chengdu, as is often the case, because of the corona epidemic. The Nepalese authorities declared on Monday that all land crossings to China will remain closed for the time being due to the corona crisis. This would also have made it impossible to travel via the Kerung border crossing.
“It will be the least crowded year on Everest for decades.” Thus Lukas Furtenbach, head of the Austrian expedition operator Furtenbach Adventures, advertised this year’s expeditions to the highest mountain on earth a few days ago. Unlike in previous years, the company not only offers the ascent on the Tibetan north side but also on the south side of Everest – not least because of the still unclear situation caused by the worldwide corona crisis. “We are preparing everything for both sides and are thus prepared to move everything to one (open) side – if necessary”, Lukas writes to me. “Let’s hope for the best!”
This Sunday is International Women’s Day. Also in Nepal. Nepalese women still have a hard time in high altitude mountaineering. The Nepalese Lhakpa Sherpa, who was born in Nepal and lives in the USA, is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the most successful woman on Mount Everest with nine summit successes. This spring she plans to reach the summit for the tenth time, from the Nepalese south side of the mountain. But the 46-year-old also has difficulties finding sponsors. To be able to finance her project, Lhakpa has started a crowdfunding campaign.
Since Pasang Lhamu Sherpa was the first Nepalese woman to reach the summit of Everest on 22 April 1993 (she died on the descent at the 8,749-meter-high South Summit), 66 ascents have been made by women from Nepal – half of them in the last four years, according to the mountain chronicle Himalayan Database.
Jost Kobusch also designs the end of his Everest winter expedition “deliberately decelerated”, as he says. The 27-year-old mountaineer, who has already been in Nepal since mid-September, will return to Germany only in a week. Jost had attempted to climb Mount Everest solo and without bottled oxygen, on the ambitious, rarely climbed route over the Lho La, a 6000-meter-high pass between Nepal and Tibet, and the West Ridge. He had climbed up to an altitude of 7,366 meters. I reached Kobusch by phone in a hotel in Kathmandu.
Jost, how satisfied
are you with the result of your Everest winter expedition?
I am quite happy. My goal was to reach 7,200 meters. I
managed that, learned a lot, and I am very grateful for this experience.
I like solo expeditions. They are challenging and therefore exciting. And if the goal is not reached, there is no one afterwards to whom the adventurer can blame for it – except nature or himself. Even before his solo winter expedition to Mount Everest, Jost Kobusch had already told me that his main concern was to find out whether his plan to climb the highest mountain on earth solo, without bottled oxygen and on an ambitious route was realistic. “My personal goal would be to reach an altitude of about 7,200 meters. Anything above that would be a bonus, the summit anyway,” Jost had said before leaving for Nepal. In the end the bonus was 166 meters.
On his last attempt, the 27-year-old German climbed up to 7,366 meters at the Everest West Shoulder. The fact that he reached his altitude despite his damaged left foot makes him very happy, Kobusch wrote on Facebook, back in Kathmandu. “Sometimes you just have to set intermediate goals to get closer to the final goal.”
Nepal tightens the entry requirements because of the Corona epidemic. From 10 March onwards, travellers from the five countries in which the highest incidence of the disease has so far been detected will no longer be able to obtain entry visas at the borders of Nepal. This applies to citizens of China, South Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan. According to the government in Kathmandu, however, this does not mean a complete ban on entry. Anyone who wants to come to Nepal from one of these countries can apply for a visa at the Nepalese embassy in their home country, but must also provide a current health certificate.
This should also have an impact on the upcoming spring season on Mount Everest and the other high mountains of Nepal. Even before the government’s decision, Nepalese expedition operators had reported that Chinese clients had cancelled their registrations due to the corona epidemic. There had also been cancellations from Italy.
Mount Everest remains unclimbed in this (meteorological) winter. After the German solo climber had abandoned his last attempt on Tuesday at 7,360 meters on the West Shoulder, the two teams on the normal route also turned back today at about 7,000 meters. “No way to get to Camp 3. 45 centimeter of fresh, unstable snow on the Lhotse Face have proven too dangerous”, Alex Txikon let us know. „We also had some close calls with avalanches yesterday . It’s frustrating, we’re strong and willing to go on, but conditions are unforgiving! We must go down.“ This means that after 2017 and 2018, the 38-year-old Spaniard’s third attempt to climb Everest in winter without bottled oxygen has failed too.
Also the four Sherpas of the “Breathless Winter Everest” team, who showed up at base camp only on Monday and planned a winter speed ascent of the highest mountain on earth, threw in the towel just below Camp 3. Expedition leader Tashi Lakpa Sherpa, like Txikon, pointed out the dangerous conditions in the Lhotse flank: too much unstable fresh snow, underneath blue ice.
Is it over? As Jost Kobusch’s GPS tracker showed today, he descended from the Everest West Shoulder to Lho La. On the 6,000-meter-high pass between Nepal and Tibet he had set up his Camp 1. Yesterday, Monday, the 27-year-old German climber had reached an altitude of about 7,300 meters, but had then climbed down again to his Camp 2 at about 6,800 meters.
Kobusch had set himself the extremely ambitious goal of climbing the highest mountain on earth solo and without bottled oxygen, via the rather rarely climbed West Ridge and the Hornbein Couloir in the North Face. Before his current try he had spoken of the “final attempt”. This was also in line with his announcement before the expedition to break down his tents on Everest by the end of the calendrical winter next Saturday at the latest.