People in the Everest region long for the end of the corona lockdown

Namche Bazaar

“I don’t have high hopes for the fall season,” Ang Dorjee Sherpa tells me. “I think only a few trekking tourists will show up. But they are welcome, no problem.” The 51-year-old owns the “AD Friendship Lodge” in Namche Bazaar, the main village of the Khumbu, the region around Mount Everest. “Five days ago, I met a foreign family who was stuck in Lukla for three months because of the corona lockdown,” says the Sherpa. In the days before the lockdown, there had been some flights back to Kathmandu from Lukla. Not all stranded tourists had apparently been given seats.

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New route on Cho Oyu from Nepal?

The Nepalese south side of Cho Oyu

Corona necessity is the mother of invention. “These days, many climbers are free, so we can use good and experienced climbers to find the route,” Maya Sherpa writes to me. The 42-year-old mountaineer means a new route on the Nepalese south side of the eight-thousander Cho Oyu. One that is suitable not only for top climbers but also for commercial expeditions. Maya Sherpa has already scaled five eight-thousanders: Mount Everest (a total of three times, both from Tibet and Nepal), K2, Kangchenjunga, Manaslu – and Cho Oyu, but not via the Nepalese but the Tibetan side of the mountain.

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Meagan Martin and Molly Thompson-Smith: Two black climbers talk about racism

Meagan Martin bouldering

The adventure gap. This is what the black journalist and author James Edward Mills calls the phenomenon that black mountaineers and climbers are still the exception in the adventure scene. “It’s not a question of whether or not African-Americans can climb high mountains,” Mills wrote in “National Geographic” magazine: “What matters is as group we tend not to. And for a variety of different social and cultural reasons the world of mountaineering has been relegated almost exclusively to white men.”

But something is happening. The “Black Lives Matter” movement is also leading to a rethink in the outdoor industry, writes US climber Meagan Martin to me. The realization that racism is still widespread initially surprised the scene, she says, adding that in the meantime, however, companies have begun to question where they’ve failed to be an ally to the black community and how they can do better moving forward: “Many athletes are also taking this time to reflect, take accountability, and educate themselves to be a better ally.”

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Sophia Danenberg: “Number of black climbers will grow exponentially”

On the top of the world in May 2006

She almost forgot the summit picture. When Sophia Danenberg reached the summit of Mount Everest together with the brothers Panuru and Mingma Chhiring Sherpa at 7 a.m. on 19 May 2006, they were alone on the top at 8,850 meters. It was windy, all the surrounding mountains were peeking up from the clouds, Sophia recently recalled in an interview with the US technology portal “GeekWire“: “It’s odd to really be above everything. However, I was mostly focused on getting down. I probably would have forgotten to take a picture if it hadn’t been for Panuru.” The Afro-American was the first black female mountaineer on the highest mountain on earth – which she only learned about on Everest. She climbed the mountain from the Nepalese south side and used bottled oxygen for her ascent.

Danenberg grew up in Chicago. She graduated from the renowned Harvard University in environmental sciences and public policy with honors (Magna Cum Lauda). During her studies, her passion for climbing arose. In November 2005, half a year before she scaled Everest, she reached the summit of the nearby Ama Dablam (6,814 m). In addition to Everest, Sophia summited three more of the Seven Summits, the highest mountains in all continents: Aconcagua (6,962 m, South America), Denali (6,194 m, North America) and Kilimanjaro (5,895 m, Africa).

Today the 48-year-old mountaineer lives in Seattle. She works for the US aviation company Boeing analyzing international environmental policy and maintaining contact with international companies and organizations. I sent Sophia some questions as part of my reports on the “Black Lives Matter” movement in the USA.

Sophia, you summited Mount Everest in 2006. What made you go there that time?

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Names of climbing routes: Where does being flippant end and racism begin?

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”, the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) once wrote in his famous “Tractatus“. To put it simply: how we say or write something is certainly significant, because language creates reality. In my opinion, this should be taken into account in the discussion about discriminatory names of climbing routes, which has gained considerable momentum in the context of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, especially in the USA.

First-time climbers, who once used the N-word when naming their routes, are therefore not necessarily racists yet – but should be aware that racism starts with the choice of words. What may have been meant funny and flippantly formulated yesterday can be offensive and discriminatory today. Probably it has done so in the past, but it has not been talked about.

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Cala Cimenti’s corona advice: “Be strong and patient!”

Cala Cimenti

He’s back to his passion. In the northwest Italian region of Piedmont and in the Dolomites Carlalberto, called “Cala”, Cimenti, rides his mountain bike again, climbs mountains and flies downhill with his paraglider. In March, the 45-year-old – as reported – was tested positive for the coronavirus. The doctors diagnosed Cimenti with pneumonia, but sent him home from the hospital – with medication and the advice to call if things got worse. For days he lay in bed with a high fever, cared for by his wife Erika Siffredi. “My attention is fixed on the thermometer marks, on every breath that must not be worse than the previous one,” Cimenti wrote on Facebook at the time. He recovered.

First ascent of Gasherbrum VII

In summer 2019, Cala had scaled Nanga Parbat in Pakistan and had skied down from the eight-thousander. He then succeeded in the Karakoram in the first ascent of the 6,955-meter-high Gasherbrum VII – the ascent is on the candidate list for this year’s Piolet d’Or, the “Oscar of climbers”. On the descent from Gasherbrum VII, his team mate Francesco Cassardo fell about 450 meters deep. In a dramatic rescue operation it was managed to get Francesco to safety. Cimenti had previously scaled the eight-thousanders Cho Oyu (in 2006), Manaslu (in 2011) and Manaslu (in 2017). 

Cala, how are you currently doing, have you recovered from your corona infection one hundred percent?

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Mountain tourism in Pakistan is on its knees

Porters on the Baltoro Glacier

The corona crisis is widening the gap between what could be and what actually is. In theory, the mountaineering season in the Karakoram would be in full swing right now. Earlier this year, 25 expedition teams had applied for permits for Pakistan’s five eight-thousanders and other mountains in the north of the country. No one has come.

“Pakistan is completely open, including the airports, but there is no tourism at all,” writes Mirza Ali Baig, head of the operator Karakorum Expeditions to me. “Summer adventure tourism is almost off. There is no possibility for mountaineering, trekking is also not taking place. Not even a single local group.”

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General quarantine for mountain tourists in Nepal?

Manaslu

2020 threatens to become a black year for expedition and trekking operators in Nepal. First they lost the entire spring season because of the corona lockdown, now the same threatens to happen in fall. Just a few days ago, the first operators like Imagine Nepal had announced eight-thousander expeditions for early September. Mingma Gyalje Sherpa’s company wanted to lead climbers to the summits of Manaslu and Dhaulagiri. “We were planning to run the expeditions and booking was quite good,” Mingma replied to my question as to whether there were enough interested climbers for the expeditions.

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Flights do not make climbing season yet

In the Everest region

After all, there is still a small spark of hope for an at least modest fall season in the Himalayas. According to the Nepalese Ministry of Tourism, it is planning to allow foreign and domestic flights again from 1 August – subject to safety requirements. Due to the corona lockdown, all flights to and in Nepal are still prohibited until at least 5 July. Since the beginning of the week, the government has been processing visa applications again – first of all, however, to extend the visas of foreigners living in Nepal.

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Medicine against altitude sickness as a corona rescuer?

Suddenly the whole world is talking about dexamethasone – a drug that high-altitude climbers and trekking tourists traveling in the Himalayas or the Karakoram have known for a long time. According to the participating scientists, a British study showed that the death rate of COVID-19 patients on artificial respiration decreased by about one third when doctors administered dexamethasone to them. However, the steroid showed no effect in a mild course of the disease.

British Health Minister Matt Hancock spoke of “brilliant news” and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, President of the World Health Organization (WHO) called it a “lifesaving scientific breakthrough”. German scientists warn against premature euphoria. Thus, the side effects of the drug would also have to be taken into account. Moreover, it is obviously only useful in severe cases and does not replace a vaccine against the coronavirus that is still needed.

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Khumbu politician Nim Dorje Sherpa is dead

Nim Dorje Sherpa

One of the most popular politicians in the region around Mount Everest is dead. Nim Dorje Sherpa, head of the Khumbu Pasanglhamu rural municipality died of intestinal cancer at the age of only 39 years in his home village of Lukla. Nim Dorje had fought against the disease for ten months, in vain in the end. He leaves behind his wife and three sons.

“His death is an irreparable loss to not only the Sherpa community but also to the entire Solukhumbu district,” Ang Dorje Sherpa, chairman of Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC) told the “Himalayan Times”. The SPCC takes care of environmental protection in the Everest National Park. Nim Dorje always strived for peace and development believing in teamwork, Ang Dorje added.

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Ang Tshering Sherpa: “Nepal’s mountain community is hardest hit by the corona crisis”

Trekking in the Khumbu region

The curves speak a clear language. According to John Hopkins University in the USA, which registers all officially reported coronavirus cases worldwide, the pandemic has not yet peaked in Nepal. Since the beginning of May, the curve has been rising continuously – around 5,000 infections have been registered so far, 16 COVID-19 deaths. The number of unreported cases is likely to be very high given the comparatively low number of coronavirus tests in the country. Yesterday, the police in Kathmandu used water cannons to stop a rally of about 1,000 people in front of the house of Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli. Among other things, the demonstrators had demanded more corona tests than before. The strict lockdown in Nepal has been in effect since 24 March and will remain in force for the time being until this Sunday. Oli has announced a slight easing of the restrictions.

Successful mountaineering official and entrepreneur

Ang Tshering Sherpa

The standstill in public life has hit the mountain tourism industry of the Himalayan state hard. I have asked Ang Tshering Sherpa about this. The 66-year-old was the head of the Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) for many years and is an honorary member of the UIAA, the World Mountaineering and Climbing Federation. Ang Tshering comes from the village of Khumjung in the Khumbu region and was one of the first students at the Edmund Hillary School, financed and built by the Himalayan Trust, the aid organization of the New Zealander who made the first ascent of Mount Everest along with the Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. In 1982 Ang Tshering Sherpa founded Asian Trekking, one of the leading providers of expeditions and trekking tours in Nepal. Now his son Dawa Steven Sherpa is the company’s CEO.

Ang Tshering, do you understand people who have put their plans for a trip to Nepal on hold out of concern about the corona pandemic?

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Marc Batard before Everest comeback at 70: “I’m in great shape”

Marc Batard

The “sprinter”, as he was once called, will return to Mount Everest. In spring 2022 Marc Batard wants to climb the highest mountain on earth without bottled oxygen – at the age of 70. If he succeeds, Marc would then most likely be by far the oldest climber on the roof of the world without using a breathing mask. So far, this Everest record is held by the Italian Abele Blanc, who reached the highest point on earth in 2010 at the age of 55 years and 264 days. For years, Batard had completely retired from high altitude climbing and devoted himself to painting.

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Dangerous game with mountain tourism in Pakistan

The 8611-meter-high K2 in Pakistan

“We are opening tourism, because these three to four months are important for the people associated with tourism. Otherwise more joblessness will occur at these places,” Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan surprisingly announced earlier this week. The former country’s cricket superstar, who has been head of government since August 2018, specifically mentioned the northern provinces of Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. There the highest mountains in Pakistan are located, including the five eight-thousanders K2, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I, Gasherbrum II and Nanga Parbat.

According to Khan, the provincial governments would jointly make regulations under which the tourism industry could be reopened. It almost sounded as if the summer climbing season in the Karakoram could be saved against all odds – despite the coronavirus pandemic. But resistance is stirring in the regions mentioned.

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70 years ago: First summit success on an eight-thousander

Northwestern view of Annapurna (the main summit on the left)

“I was deeply touched. Never before I had felt such a feeling of happiness,” French climber Maurice Herzog later wrote about that moment on 3 June 1950, when he reached the 8,091-meter-high summit of Annapurna I with his compatriot Louis Lachenal – it was the first ascent of an eight-thousander. Both climbed without bottled oxygen on their way over the northern flank of the mountain. The way back from the summit was dramatic.

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