The Himalayan mountains in Nepal and Tibet are closed to foreign mountaineers this spring due to the corona pandemic. For the same reason no expedition permits will be issued for Denali in Alaska, the highest mountain in North America (6,190 m), and the nearby Mount Foraker (5,304 m) in 2020. This was announced last Friday by the Denali National Park Service. The season there usually lasts from the end of April to mid-July.
Whether expeditions to the 8,611-meter-high K2, the second highest mountain on earth, and the four other eight-thousanders in Pakistan will be possible next summer is currently uncertain. As of today, due to the corona crisis a lockdown is in force until further notice in the northern Pakistani province of Gilgit-Baltistan, where the country’s highest mountains are located. Paramilitary forces have been asked to check whether the regulations are being observed, a member of the provincial government announced. Passenger traffic between the province’s cities has also been suspended.
According to the Johns Hopkins University in the USA, which records all corona cases registered worldwide, 873 people in Pakistan have tested positive for the virus so far (as of 23 March, 4.30 pm CET). Six patients died, including a doctor from Gilgit who had treated corona patients.
Between fear and hope
“The situation at the moment is getting bad in Pakistan,” Mirza Ali Baig, head of the Pakistani expedition operator “Karakorum Expeditions” writes to me. The 36-year-old – like his sister Samina Baig, in 2013 the first female mountaineer from Pakistan to scale Mount Everest – has climbed the Seven Summits, the highest mountains of all continents. “Officially, the summer mountaineering season in summer has not yet been called off, since the season begins in June, so there is little time left,” says Mirza. “Otherwise things are not looking good.”
Even more optimistic sounds the operator “Adventure Tours Pakistan“, who has planned expeditions to K2, Broad Peak and Gasherbrum I and II this year. “Corona has badly affected our lives and (we are) sad witnessing the current situation worldwide,” ATP writes to me. “However, we very much hope that our summer season will not be affected.” As everywhere else in the world in times of the coronavirus, it is hardly possible to make a reliable prognosis. It is advisable to look from day to day and be prepared for everything.
Update 24 March: A one-week lockdown is now also in effect throughout Nepal. People are now only allowed to go outside for medical reasons, if they absolutely have to go to work or shop. All domestic and international flights are canceled, except for security forces.