A few weeks ago we told you about Mount Everest’s first recorded COVID case. Now, the base camp at the world’s tallest peak is becoming an unlikely hot spot for infection.
“The COVID situation is much worse than anyone knows,” anonymous sources told Outside. What we do know, however, is the personal accounts from expedition members on social media. One climber from New York said the situation at Everest base camp is, “a total shitstorm.”
A Polish climber posted to Facebook, writing, “more than 30 people have already been evacuated with propellers to Kathmandu, with suspicion of pulmonary edema - later found to be positive for coronavirus.”
The first mountaineer to record an infection was airlifted to a hospital in Kathmandu on the suspicion that he had high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), a life-threatening form of altitude sickness. When he got to Nepal’s capital city, he tested positive for COVID. Turns out HAPE and COVID have similar symptoms.
Nepali journalist Rojita Adhikari has also sounded the alarm of rising cases at one of the world’s most isolated locations.
“The Nepal Government is still denying there is a COVID outbreak at Everest base camp, despite emerging evidence,” she wrote on Twitter. “I tested positive soon after I returned from the camp.”
“Why is the government hiding the truth?” she continued. “Why are they putting hundreds of climbers at risk? For tourism money?”
The Himalayan economy was hit hard by the pandemic after Nepal locked Everest down for a year and suspended tourist visas last spring. Now, the mountain is open to outfitters, foreigners, and climbers. And this year, the government issued a record 408 permits. The previous record was set in 2019, when the nation gave 381 permits. That year, a photo of a concerningly crowded peak went viral.
Who knows what will happen with the climbing season from here on out. But we’ve been with COVID for over a year. By now, we know better than to expect a happy ending.