As long as COVID-19 has the world in its grip, it will remain lonely on the Tibetan north side of Mount Everest. It’s not official yet, but hardly anyone on the scene still doubts that China will not allow foreign climbers into Tibet for the third spring in a row because of the pandemic.
“No change. See you in 2023!” – that’s how Kari Kobler, head of the Swiss expedition operator Kobler & Partner, sums up the reactions of those responsible in Tibet to his inquiries regarding Everest. “I think expeditions to Tibet’s eight-thousanders are impossible in spring,” Kari, who has been organizing expeditions to the Himalayas for three decades, writes to me. For the 2022 fall season in Tibet, he sees a 50/50 chance at most, “but even that looks chanceless from my point of view at the moment.”
Infections covered up on Nepal side
In spring 2021, Sino-Tibetan authorities had granted permission to only 21 local climbers to climb the highest mountain on earth. However, the single expedition was abandoned before a summit attempt could be made.
Reportedly, authorities feared that the climbers might contract COVID-19 at the summit of Everest at 8,849 meters if they met other climbers there who were ascending from Nepal’s south side. The number of people infected during the season at the base camp on the south side is still being covered up by the government in Kathmandu. The number is estimated at around 150.
Alpenglow cancels Everest expedition
U.S. operator Alpenglow Expeditions called off its Everest expedition on the north side of Everest planned for this spring. “Unfortunately, it is looking unlikely that Tibet will open this coming season,” Alpenglow let us know at Christmas, explaining their move. The company will also not switch to the Nepalese south side. They had said goodbye to there after the tragedies in 2014 (an avalanche accident in the Khumbu Icefall killed 16 Nepalese climbers) and 2015 (earthquake disaster in Nepal) “to protect our Sherpa, Guides, and Clients from the objective hazards and overcrowding that the south side presents”.
Austrian operator Furtenbach Adventures has both Everest sides on offer for 2022. Lukas Furtenbach, head of the company, says he does not believe China will allow foreign climbers into the country next spring. But there shouldn’t be an official announcement from the Sino-Tibetan authorities until the end of January, Lukas writes me: “If the north side does open after all, we’ll be ready.”