To prevent the spread of the coronavirus in base camps around Mt. Everest, China has indicated that it will close access to the sides of the mountain that fall within its borders, effectively cancelling the plans of many climbers and guide companies currently preparing to summit the mountain.
One such company, Lake Tahoe-based Alpenglow Expeditions, announced today that it will scrap all of its planned summit expeditions for the season in response to the news.
“This is heartbreaking news, especially for our clients who have trained so hard and invested so much in chasing the climb of a lifetime,” said Adrian Ballinger, the CEO of Alpenglow Expeditions, in a statement released Wednesday. “While cancelling a climb is never an outcome we want, this time, it’s the responsible thing to do. A Covid-19 outbreak at base camp would be dangerous and potentially devastating.”
Alpenglow cites, correctly, that the coronavirus would be particularly dangerous in a low-oxygen environment like the face of Everest. The virus makes breathing difficult due to inflammation of the lungs.
"In high altitude conditions, where breathing is already a challenge, the novel coronavirus, which attacks the respiratory system, could be life threatening. The tight-knit base camp communities where climbers assemble before summiting would also be susceptible to a rapid spread of the viral infection," Alpenglow wrote in a statement.
Currently, the company has no plans to reroute its expeditions to the Nepalese side of Everest, which remains open for now.
“Nepal may follow China’s lead and shut down their season as well,” Ballinger said. “Even if they don’t, the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak and the underlying issues of ascending from the south side, including the lack of effective management, overcrowding, and an unpredictable icefall, make such an expedition unsafe in our eyes. It’s not a gamble we’re willing to take.