Has Everest Reached its “Tipping Point?” 17 Reported Covid Cases on Everest and 10 Evacuated from Dhaulagiri

When Malcolm Gladwell, author of the bestselling book “The Tipping Point” came to talk with our creative team at the advertising agency I worked at in New York, he explained how his theory started with how an epidemic starts and grows – with one person, then two, becoming infected.

Then two becomes four, four becomes eight, and then there is exponential growth. Simple.

Pumori, Everest
The summit of 7,163 (23,428 ft) Pumori, seem from the Western CWM on Everest.

He said he just took the idea of an epidemic and translated it into how information spreads and how people then act upon it to write “The Tipping Point.”

The latest from The New York Times, a rather well respected source I might add, led with:

“Infections are surging among climbers trying to scale Mount Everest.

The BBC reported that 17 people have been evacuated from Everest Base Camp, all diagnosed with Covid.

This follows on from yesterdays Guardian Post “Everest Covid Outbreak throws climbing season into doubt.

This in turn was preceded by CNN’s interview and video with Norwegian Erlend Ness, with footage from the helicopter as he evacuated Base Camp and then spoke from his Kathmandu hospital bed. CNN wrote of “dozens of suspected cases” to accompany their reporting.

Reaching the local Nepali Press today, The Himalayan Times reports that over 10 people are now being evacuated from Dhaulagiri as well – it seems even the more remote and less popular 8,000 meter peaks aren’t a safe haven either.

In “The Tipping Point,” Malcolm went on to explain how information spreads – from one, through to another, depending on the medium, the messenger and what is said. Small inflections in any of those can make a very big difference. Then, at some point, there is a point where it reaches: “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”

People then move from thinking to acting upon the information.

The Covid Everest message has followed that predictable path, much like the virus itself. Rumors and tips filtered in from Base Camp, then with stronger points of view about the real situation on the ground from Kathmandu.

Then local papers, and social media began pulling from other social media, expanding the message.

Amplifying a message in a myriad of mediums.

And while any news organization can get it as wrong as we all do sometimes, once a host of global media players start covering a story, between their fact checkers, editors and the comments sections they all now have to live with, there is usually a fair degree of certainty the coverage is based on reality.

So, as Covid goes, the Covid news on Everest goes.

Everest is a headline, a hashtag and a place to comment ad infinitum as many of us know.

While Everest Base Camp has struggled with WiFi this year, between Sat. phones and daily helicopter runs, they aren’t exactly in a dark hole when it comes to outside sentiment. Or the numbers infected, or the comments popping up asking variations of “I’m surprised you went at all and why are you still there?” From Base Camp itself, information, misinformation and cases claimed, refuted and not talked about has only fueled the outside media.

As climbers finish up rotations on the mountain, the ropes are fixed towards the summit and the weather window opens, will climbers tip to going up, or tip to going home? There is of course the challenge they will find it difficult to get home right now, with flights shut down until 14 May. Maybe best just to stay, or hibernate if that is possible?

In Kathmandu, the frightening nature of the epidemic is borne out with this article in the Kathmandu Post. “A man died outside a pharmacy after three hospitals in Janakpur turned him away.” The private hospitals are taking the insured, the wealthy and the climbers that are now being helicoptered back into Kathmandu.

Everest South Col, making the rounds before going to the summit.

Individually gaining the summit may be a life long dream. But climbing off the South Col not knowing whether the shortness of breath is your oxygen freezing up or Covid spreading through your body will be a challenge for anyone. And a return to Kathmandu, even if just flying over Nepal, and into a highly infected and currently locked down Kathmandu, may not feel as triumphant as hoped.

With the messaging out there now, the doubts being raised, the tipping point may soon be reached?