Well known and respected guide Lukas Furtenbach of Furtenbach Adventures announced today he is pulling the plug immediately on plans to climb Everest this year.
With his large team in Base Camp, ropes already fixed to the top and other climbers having already summited, he provides a host of reasons to pack up and leave now – the highest being he no longer feels they can stay on the mountain and attempt the summit safely with Covid increasingly prevalent.
“I didn’t make the decision easy for myself. But to climb the base camp with these massively increasing corona numbers and risk the lives of our 20 customers, 4 mountain guides and 27 Sherpas carelessly, would be irresponsible,” said Lukas Furtenbach, Managing Director of Furtenbach Adventures.
Lukas has been active on the North Side in recent years, and one of the leaders of ‘flash’ expeditions, where climbers acclimatize at home in acclimatisation tents or at high places elsewhere, and then move rapidly up the mountain.
This year he helicopter hopped up through the Khumbu, acclimatizing as they slept low and climbed higher aided by quick heli-transits in between. As both a pioneer in this approach, as well as an outspoken guide, his choice to call off the Everest season will undoubtably spread additional doubts amongst those remaining as they start up for the next weather window.
Lukas goes on to state that as hard as they tried, it was impossible to isolate fully, and these conditions will only be exacerbated by the close conditions that are inevitable both climbing and camping out higher on the mountain.
“In the past few days, the number of people infected with corona in Everest base camp has increased massively. “With some teams, elementary precautionary measures were simply not observed. There were meetings between the teams, there were celebrations, parties were held. That is why the sudden increase in corona infected people.”
While just two deaths have been reported so far, due to “exhaustion,” this must also be troubling those below, as whether these were covid related or not has yet to be determined. If it was Covid, and this is suspected by the climbers in Base Camp, that will certainly have a massive effect on ones confidence. Few climbers leave the South Col for the summit feeling great, and the symptoms for Covid and altitude so similar, knowing what you might be suffering from is virtually impossible.
Lukas also questions the Nepalis, who have long held out there is no Covid in Base Camp, when that is well documented to be untrue by those descending. With multiple climbers having multiple tests and appearing in videos stating their Covid diagnosis.
But now the point has been reached where we pull the plug, “says Furtenbach, who is also very surprised that nothing is being done by the official Nepalese side.
The Nepali response isn’t unexpected. It does still raise the question that as Nepalis are overwhelmed with Covid below, hospitals overflow, and oxygen runs out, the government would still support the resources needed to climb Everest.
On the ground in Kathmandu, expats have access to private hospitals and lists of where to be treated, while local Nepalis are turned away. Climbers will of course have access to the same, but it will be taking away from the scant local resources available. There are reports of hoarding of oxygen amongst those who had earlier access to supplies, and its value will undoubtably rise exponentially.
With the Kathmandu Valley under lockdown, quarantines required from all entering and international flights now cancelled until the end of May, the Everest season may yet come to an abrupt end.
Whether other teams feel the same as Furtenbach Adventures, or want to continue into the heights is yet to be seen. Ultimately, it is about the teams safety and if even one climber gets Covid up high, a bad decision was made by someone. Perhaps some of it is still too little too late, with the signs being obvious – but the lure of Everest has certainly clouded more than a few peoples decision making ability.
Perhaps the happy camper Everest selfies, the heli-ride videos posted as climbers descend for tea and cakes for a rest before a summit bid will be less prolific.
Then again, the shot out the window of the private jet as it leaves Kathmandu may be just too memorable for some to pass up?