The coronavirus is already wreaking havoc on international sporting events, but what about the spring Everest season, set to begin in April?
Since the outbreak, postponements and cancelations have plagued events worldwide, and Mount Everest is not immune. For example, a Grand Prix race in China was postponed, and international football matches in Europe were suspended due to precautions to prevent further spread of coronavirus.
The threat goes further. The 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Japan are at risk with officials stating that they will reassess in May whether the event will begin in July as scheduled. It does not bode well that training for 80,000 Olympic Games volunteers, which was due to begin in February, has been delayed for at least two months.
The outlook for Mount Everest is mixed. There are two main routes to summit, one from the south side in Nepal where most summit attempts begin, and the other from the north side in China where less than half of ascents start.
The coronavirus outbreak has all but shut down access to China. Airlines and countries are continuing to restrict travel following the spread of the novel coronavirus outside the borders of Chinese territory. American, Delta, and United Airlines have suspended flights to China through the end of April. With increased cases of coronavirus, numerous routes around the world are being cut to prevent the further spread of the disease.
Typically, there have been more than 2,000 flights out of China per day, today that number is about 350. Rearranging a climb from China to the Nepal side this late in the year would be close to impossible. If climbers can get into China, self-quarantine for 14-days, and then make their way to Tibet where Mount Everest ascents commence, they will be able to make their attempt. But they will face a tougher challenge trying to leave China and repatriate if the outbreak has not abated.
In Nepal, there has been one reported case of coronavirus. Flights to Kathmandu, the metropolis where climbers stage their expedition to Mount Everest, are normal. But mountaineers may experience some travel barriers. The Nepalese government is temporarily suspending its visa-on-arrival process for all countries impacted by coronavirus including: China, Iran, Italy, South Korea, Japan, France, German, and Spain. Additionally, the Southern route may be more crowded if a significant number of climbers who originally planned on a Northern route ascent switch to avoid the troublesome travel restrictions in China.
Attempting a summit on Mount Everest is planned months in advance, with costs ranging from $30,000 to $150,000. Canceling an expedition out of fear of coronavirus exposure almost certainly is not going to be a covered event by any travel insurance company. Purchasing “Cancel for Any Reason” protection comes with a host of limitations, restrictions, and conditions. You should check the details of your policy before making a purchase or prior to changing travel plans. If you contract coronavirus while on your trip – or get quarantined – you might be covered for medical expenses or trip interruption benefits if the diagnosis is confirmed.
Expedition experts are confident the Spring climbing season for Mount Everest will proceed, but it’s unclear at what level.
“In Nepal, everything is still a go. There are about 25 expedition teams that are currently planning to climb Mount Everest,” said Eric Simonson, co-owner of International Mountain Guides.
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But some large expeditions have cancelled and the airport and the Thamel tourist area are atypically quiet. “I know of several people that have postponed to next year,” said noted Mount Everest expert Alan Arnette.
Mountaineers are asking coronavirus-related questions, some are postponing for a year due to the outbreak, others are going forward.
“Trekkers and climbers have been showing some concern and asking questions but no one is postponing or canceling their plans,” said Gordon Janow, Alpine Ascents International Director of Programs. “We’re talking about strong and fit people. Mentally they’re prepared to go forward.”
Dan Stretch is a Global Rescue Operations Manager and is based in Nepal during the Mt. Everest climbing seasons. He has coordinated hundreds of evacuations and crisis response operations. He graduated from the University of Hertfordshire with a BS in Paramedic Science.