“Would the oxygen bottles at Everest Base Camp be of use in the emerging Covid Emergency in Kathmandu?”

“Would the oxygen bottles at Everest Base Camp be of use in the emerging Covid Emergency in Kathmandu.” Ed Douglas on Twitter, author of: Himalaya: A Human History.

While climbers in Everest Base Camp are lying low, and those up in the Western CWM are reportedly trying to stay a bit longer, the questions circulating are becoming more frequent.

Not that the value of climbing, or especially climbing Everest, hasn’t been questioned extensively before. From rubbish, to bodies, to crowding – it’s all thrown a rather harsh light on climbers motivations. The triumphs and tribulations of ascending to the top of the world has certainly found more story value on the tribulations side in recent years.

South Col, Everest, Geneva Spur

On the mountain right now, ropes should soon extend from Base Camp to the summit, opening the way for climbers to quickly follow. With a record number of climbers (404 currently) registered, it could prove to be a very busy year.

As reported on ExplorersWeb, “The Haste to Escape Base Camp,” is increasing by the day, with rumors circulating of multiple Covid cases and helicopter flights taking people back to Kathmandu hospitals. Attempts to bury this news by Nepal, just multiplies it, spreads misinformation and makes it more interesting – not a recommended PR strategy.

Kathmandu and the surrounding areas have now gone into lockdown, with a rather forceful approach including, “Security Beefed up in Kathmandu Valley as prohibitory orders kick in,” as reported in the Himalayan Times.

With cases now multiplying by a rate described as “exponential” and exceeding 2,000 a day in the Kathmandu Valley alone, outrunning the virus seems a strategy that hasn’t proved very successful anywhere in the world and has arguably proved disastrous for the U.S.A., Brazil, and now India. It is hard to see how Base Camp could be any different.

What additional restrictions Nepal may suddenly place on Everest climbers is unknown. If previous restrictions, from directing what photos can be disseminated to now attempting to limit media coverage, are any indication, if they feel it is in their interest to suddenly shut Everest, it is certainly a possibility.

If Nepali hospitals and patients below run out of oxygen and climbers above are breathing 4 litres of oxygen a minute to summit, where will their loyalties lie?

Permit fees to Nepal have been paid, now totaling over U.S.$4 million. Local workers have been employed, and while few trekkers are in Nepal, at least some revenue has thankfully come in.

Even more climbers are expected in Base Camp soon, including those acclimatizing elsewhere and looking for a “flash” ascent, (who often use even more oxygen). With those additional people arriving, along with the myriad support staff, the opportunities for Covid to spread would only seem to be multiplying. The numerous photos of climbers arm in arm and unmasked for photographs does seem like yet another opportunity for a high altitude super-spreader event.

Climbers have always been independent, self confident and egotistical – and you probably wouldn’t get very far up any big mountain without a good dose of self belief. For those climbing without oxygen, those characteristics may be further enhanced, though your potential need for medical services following the expedition are also far higher, as it is a far more dangerous and hazardous endeavour.

The challenge this year may well go beyond individual ability, your team and a good dose of luck.

Will the memory of reaching the top of the world be a personal high? Or will it be clouded by memories of Nepalis below trying to find a bottle of oxygen to save their family?

With Edward Whymper’s birthday just past, who made the first ascent of the Matterhorn, his words may perhaps be appropriate to remind ourselves of following his successful summit and very sad and tragic descent from the mountain:

“Still, the last sad memory hovers round, and sometimes drifts across like floating mist, cutting off sunshine and chilling the remembrance of happier times. There have been joys too great to be described in words, and there have been griefs upon which I have not dared to dwell; and with these in mind I say: Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.

Everest, South summit, sunrise