Corona crisis: Summer climbing season in the Karakoram is doomed to failure

Gasherbrum-Gruppe
The Gasherbrum massif

As in spring on the eight-thousanders in Nepal and Tibet, it will probably be lonely on the mountain giants of Pakistan this summer. Most of the expedition operators from abroad have already canceled their trips to the Karakoram planned for this summer or at least put them on the back burner. For example, Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, head of the operator Imagine Nepal, announced that their expedition to K2 would be postponed until 2021 due to the uncertain situation caused by the Corona pandemic.

The expedition operator Summit Climb also canceled the expeditions to K2 and the eight-thousanders Gasherbrum I and II originally scheduled for this summer. Summit Climb expedition leader Felix Berg gave me a few reasons: “Who is allowed to travel from where, quarantine on return, some members are no longer mentally prepared, we would have to get Sherpas from Nepal to Pakistan – this cannot be achieved with six weeks’ notice in Pakistan.” No matter who you talk to, the flight problem and the uncertainty of the clients is pointed out again and again – and of course the number of infections.

Currently no permits

Descent from Gondogoro La
Descent from Gondogoro La

“The development in Pakistan indicates that there will be no expeditions this summer,” writes Lukas Furtenbach, head of the operator Furtenbach Adventures, to me. “There are currently also no more permits being issued. In Pakistan, the number of infections is growing very fast.” According to the Johns Hopkins University in the USA, which keeps worldwide corona statistics, more than 35,000 infections with the virus have been registered in Pakistan so far (as of 14 May), and the number is rising; almost 800 people have died of Covid-19. Furtenbach had the eight-thousanders K2, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I and Gasherbrum II on offer for this summer. “We will decide at the end of May,” announces Lukas. “And if we can do anything, we’ll do it at a later date.”

Hoping for the fall

Broad Peak

The Pakistani operators are also preparing for the fact that expeditions in Karakorum will probably not be possible for until fall, if at all. “Looking at the growing number of new cases, we have postponed all our trekking, expeditions and tours,” writes Mirza Ali, head of Karakorum Expeditions, to me. “We hope things get better by fall, so that we can have some tourism activities.”

All mountain sports operators in Pakistan are in the same boat, says Mirza: “Since the borders are closed, no international flights arrive and there is no possibility for tourism in summer, the mountain community is greatly suffering. Tourism is the only source of income.” So the people in the mountain regions of Pakistan are in the same situation as those in Nepal.

Update 8 p.m. CEST: The German expedition operator Amical alpin and the Swiss provider Höhenbergsteigen have also postponed their expeditions planned for this summer until 2021, according to their own statements.