The dramatic corona development in Nepal has also had its first effects on the summer climbing season in Pakistan. With Furtenbach Adventures and Kobler & Partner, two European operators canceled their eight-thousander expeditions in the Karakoram that were actually planned for the summer – not least because of the recent events on Mount Everest.
“Not repeating the mistake”
Lukas Furtenbach, head of Austrian expedition operator Furtenbach Adventures, pointed out in a video interview with U.S. blogger Alan Arnette that his Sherpa team from Nepal was not currently allowed to travel to Pakistan. In addition, he said, there is an export ban on bottled oxygen in Nepal.
Most importantly, he said, the escalation of the corona situation in South Asia prompted him to cancel the planned expedition to K2 and Broad Peak. “Pakistan is becoming the next hotspot for corona after India and Nepal,” Lukas said in the interview. “The development is clear, and we don’t want to make the same mistake as we did here (at Mount Everest).”
Furtenbach had – as reported – abandoned his Everest expedition just before the planned summit attempt because of many new COVID-19 cases on the world’s highest mountain. “We’re not talking about 10, 20, 50, we’re talking about 150 (cases),” Lukas told Alan Arnette. “And we’re talking about people evacuated from Camp 2 with COVID after the first summit wave.”
Swiss operator Kobler & Partner has canceled their expedition to Gasherbrum II planned for this summer, also pointing out that it is uncertain whether Nepalese Sherpas will even be allowed to travel to Pakistan. Events this spring on Mount Everest also led to the decision, they said.
“The situation at Everest Base Camp in Nepal has shown us that it is still too early for major expeditions,” the operator wrote to their clients. “Should such an outbreak happen in Pakistan, the risks are much higher than in Nepal. A helicopter flight to Skardu costs about $25,000 (for comparison, in Nepal a flight costs about $3,000). The rescue chain in Pakistan is not comparable to the possibilities in Nepal. The risk is not something we can take responsibility for.”
Nepal currently on entry ban list
The government of Pakistan had announced yesterday that the country would be reopened to tourists starting 24 May – but under strict COVID security measures. The guidelines, which I have, state, among other things: “Mountaineers, trekkers and High Altitude Porters from Nepal or those mountaineers/individuals who have been in Nepal in past three weeks are not allowed until Nepal is taken out of the ‘List of Category C countries’.” Corona high-risk countries are listed there. In addition, COVID vaccination certificates will be required of all expedition members entering Pakistan.
Amical wants to go through with GII expedition
In contrast to Furtenbach and Kobler, German expedition operator Amical alpin plans to stick with their planned expedition to Gasherbrum II. “We have been working with local mountain guides for years and have no problem with this like other operator who had always relied more on Nepalis,” Amical head Dominik Müller writes me. “In addition, there is an extensive hygiene concept. All our staff will be vaccinated by then and will be tested at regular intervals.”
According to the Pakistani government, about 890,000 infections have been counted in the country since the pandemic broke out more than a year ago. Close to 20,000 people have died from COVID-19. As in Nepal, a high number of unreported cases are suspected in Pakistan. Recently, the number of infections increased significantly. The German Foreign Ministry still classifies the country as a risk area and warns against “unnecessary tourist travel to Pakistan”.
Update 21 May: Update May 21: The operator Imagine Nepal has also canceled their K2 expedition planned for the summer in view of the entry ban on Nepalese. “This is also a good opportunity for our Pakistani climber brother to show who they are and what they can do on mountains,” writes Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, head of the company, on Facebook.