An 82-year-old climber from Spain is managing the corona outbreak on the eight-thousander Dhaulagiri in western Nepal. “Five more people were evacuated today,” Carlos Soria wrote on Twitter today. “We have received 90 tests for everyone at base camp. We have done 30 tests: Twelve of them were positive. We are trying everything to stabilize the situation and take care of everyone’s health.”
Speaking to Explorersweb, Carlos described the situation at the base camp as “crazy.” Currently, 19 sick people were still staying there, Soria said. A total of about 20 people have already been flown out, he said. That the government of Nepal still denies that there is a corona problem in the mountains is a scandal against the background of the massive outbreak on Dhaulagiri.
On Mount Everest, the first commercial teams have left for summit attempts. Among those who set out were the mountaineers of Bahrain’s Royal Guard. If everything goes as planned, Sheikh Mohamed Hamad Mohamed Al Khalifa and Co. are expected to reach the 8,849-meter-high summit next Tuesday. Before that, the rope-fixing team led by Everest record holder Kami Rita Sherpa is to secure the route up to the highest point.
During their successful expedition on the eight-thousander Manaslu last fall, some climbers of the team from Bahrain had – as reported – quite obviously let themselves be flown by helicopter from base camp to Camp 1. I had called this “heli-doping”. Helicopters are being used more and more frequently on Nepal’s eight-thousanders – and by no means only, as in earlier days, for rescue flights.
After articulating my gut feelings about some of the developments on the eight-thousanders following the events in mid-April on the 8,091-meter-high Annapurna, Maurizio Folini commented on my article: “We need absolutely to introduce ethics using the helicopter in Nepal. I’m the first pilot flying above 7,000 meter for rescue, I’m also part of the game but it is time to stop the commercial fake rescue (many…) and start a professional Himalayan rescue organization.”
Since 2011, Folini has been flying regularly in the Himalayas. In 2013, the Italian achieved the highest helicopter rescue of all time on Mount Everest, when he carried a Nepalese climber down from 7,800 meters on a long line. I contacted the 55-year-old:
Maurizio, you are one of the pioneers of rescue helicopter flights in the Himalayas. In your experience, how widespread is “heli-doping” in the meantime, i.e. climbers being flown directly to the high camps or from there afterwards in order to save themselves dangerous or even just annoying stages?
Dinner is served. The first summits of the spring season on Mount Everest and Dhaulagiri in western Nepal are expected this weekend. The weather promises to be stable, with little wind, so the chances are good. Many of the commercial teams have completed their acclimatization and are champing at the bit. All quite normal, isn’t it?
I admit, it’s hard for me to report on expeditions to Nepal’s eight-thousanders while completely ignoring the dramatic corona situation in the Himalayan state – as if the mountains were a giant bubble, sealed off from everything going on around it. Day after day, new highs in COVID-19 infections are currently being reported from Nepal. Today there were 8,970, half of them in the Kathmandu Valley. The country’s health system is completely overwhelmed. Many hospitals lack beds and oxygen. Patients have to be turned away.
This time next year, Marc Batard wants to summit Mount Everest for the third time without bottled oxygen. The Frenchman will then be 70 years old. If he succeeds, he would be by far the oldest climber without breathing mask on the top of the highest mountain on earth.
At the end of the 1980s, Marc was a big shot in the Himalayas. Within just under ten months, the “sprinter”, as he was called because of his fast pace, scaled four eight-thousanders, all without bottled oxygen. In 1988 and 1990, he stood on the summit of Mount Everest.
On Sunday, contact with Sergey Kondrashkin, Alexander Luthokin and Dmitry Sinev was lost. According to the newspaper The Himalayan Times, Kondrashkin and Sinev had reached the 8,091-meter-high summit, Luthokin is said to have given up above 7,000 meters. The trio was eventually discovered above Camp 3 (6,600 m) and rescued by helicopter.
The first summit day of the spring season on an eight-thousander in Nepal was a very successful one. By his count, 67 climbers from several teams had reached the 8,091-meter summit of Annapurna I in the west of the country today, Chhang Dawa Sherpa of the Nepali expedition operator Seven Summit Treks (SST) let it be known on Instagram. Others reported more than 40 summit successes. Either way, it would be by far the most successful summit day ever on this mountain, which is the most dangerous of all eight-thousanders in terms of fatality rate.
Actually, the first summit successes in this spring season on an eight-thousander in Nepal were expected for today, Thursday. But the push on Annapurna I ended at an altitude of about 7,400 meters. “Back at Camp 4,” Mexican Viridiana Alvarez Chavez let us know via her GPS tracker. “Thirty-five people and no one made the summit.”
The fixed ropes had run out, she added, writing that there will be another attempt to reach the highest point on Friday. This was also confirmed by the Pakistani climbers Sirbaz Khan and Abdul Joshi. They let it be known that additional material (800m rope, bottled oxygen, food and gas) was dropped by helicopter at Camp 4 at 7,300 meters.
For me, it was one of the first mysteries of this spring climbing season in Nepal. Who is the lone climber who has appeared for weeks as the only summit aspirant for Manaslu on the permit lists of the Ministry of Tourism in Kathmandu? The mystery has been solved. At least as far as the identity of the climber is concerned. He is the Japanese Toshihiro Yokoi. In the high-altitude mountaineering scene, he is still a blank sheet. At least there is no entry about him in the mountaineering chronicle Himalayan Database.
Yokoi set out in mid-March with a small team from the Nepalese expedition operator Asian Hiking Team to climb the 8,163-meter-high Manaslu in western Nepal. According to information from the operator, the Japanese wanted to use bottled oxygen to climb the eighth-highest mountain on earth and then – also this spring – climb Mount Everest and Lhotse.
At least a small glimmer of hope for Nepal in times of pandemic: In March, Nepalese authorities counted around 15,000 tourists entering the Himalayan state from abroad. That was almost twice as many as in February. In the first three months of the year, a total of about 33,000 tourists arrived. That’s about a quarter of the number of foreign vacationers who entered Nepal in the first quarter of pre-corona 2019 (about 127,000).
The mountaineering season is also picking up steam following the easing of entry restrictions. The Ministry of Tourism announced yesterday that it had so far issued 343 climbing permits for a total of nine mountains, including 192 alone, distributed among 20 expedition teams, for Mount Everest. By comparison, in the record year of 2019, the ministry had issued 381 permits for the highest mountain on earth.
More than 20 years after his last summit success on an eight-thousander, Marc Batard is going to give it another try. For this spring, the 69-year-old has set his sights on climbing Annapurna – via the so called “Dutch Rib” in the North Face, without bottled oxygen. Batard and his team reached the village of Tatopani yesterday on their way to the 8,091-meter Annapurna I in western Nepal.
“I am very happy to be back in an area I know well and to have the chance to present myself in good shape despite my age,” Marc writes me. Twice he tried unsuccessfully to scale Annapurna in the 1980s. Both times bad weather stopped him: in 1986 on the East Ridge at 7,100 meters, in 1989 in the South Face at 5,800 meters.
The video circulating on social networks actually leaves no room for interpretation: A helicopter lands in Camp 1 at 5,700 meters on the eight-thousander Manaslu in western Nepal. On one side of the helicopter, a backpack is unloaded, which someone picks up; on the other side, a climber gets out and is greeted by another mountaineer with a handshake.
It was said, the video was filmed last fall during the Manaslu expedition of Bahrain’s Royal Guard, which was organized by Nepalese operator Seven Summit Treks. If the dating of the video is confirmed, “heli-doping” would have been involved in the summit success of the team from Bahrain and at least one, possibly several climbers would have saved themselves the first stage from Manaslu Base Camp to Camp 1. My inquiry on this to Seven Summit Treks has remained unanswered so far.
Slowly I am dizzy from the constant back and forth of the Nepalese government regarding the quarantine of incoming tourists. Therefore I formulate it cautiously: Apparently the Ministry of Tourism now seems to have agreed on a regulation, which could possibly last for a longer time. According to this regulation, people entering Nepal – provided they have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus or have a negative PCR test that is not older than 72 hours – have to be tested immediately after arriving in Nepal.
If there is one thing the Nepalese government knows how to do, it is the backward roll. Apparently, the quarantine regulations for incoming tourists will not be relaxed for the time being. After a cabinet meeting last week, officials of the Ministry of Tourism had told press representatives in Kathmandu that guests from abroad who had been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus would no longer have to undergo a mandatory one-week quarantine in a hotel in Kathmandu. A negative Covid-19 test, which is not older than 72 hours, would be sufficient to be able to move freely in Nepal immediately.
Visitors from abroad who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and can also present a current negative corona test will no longer have to undergo a one-week hotel quarantine in Nepal. According to the Kathmandu Post newspaper, this was decided by the Nepalese government at yesterday’s cabinet meeting. In other words, even vaccinated climbers who want to climb Mount Everest or another mountain in Nepal this spring will once again be able to decide for themselves when to head to the mountains after arriving in Kathmandu.
“We feel really bad,” Vinayak Jay Malla writes to me, meaning himself and those about 60 Nepalese who, after a long training, have received an international mountain guide certificate. Despite their qualifications, they now have to apply for a mountain guide license from the Ministry of Tourism in Kathmandu, shortly before the start of the spring season on Mount Everest and the other high mountains of Nepal. Background: The government has decreed that every expedition on a mountain in Nepal must hire a mountain guide. Only those who have one of the new government licenses will be recognized. The international certificate does not automatically count as proof. Unacceptable, complains Ang Norbu Sherpa, president of the Nepal National Mountain Guide Association (NNMGA), which issues the certificates.