Mount Everest has been closed for a year, due to the global pandemic that’s closed pretty much everything else. It may seem like outdoor sports ought to have been spared, but locals don’t climb Everest for themselves, so everyone who comes to do so has to travel. There is no social distancing in a tent or on a high-altitude climb, which puts local workers at risk, so the Nepali government closed its capital city, Kathmandu, to visitors.
Kathmandu is considered the gateway to the Nepalese Himalayas.
The closure has not been without consequences. Everest and seven other peaks – eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains – draw in climbers who spend tens of millions of U.S. dollars each year in Nepal. Climbing tourism is a large chunk of the local economy. But according to the WHO, Nepal saw nearly a quarter of a million infections and over 3,000 deaths, in a population of 29 million.
According to Mira Acharya, a tourism department official in the area, plans are for Mount Everest climbing attempts to be authorized again beginning in mid-April. Nepal began vaccinating in January, and the country’s COVID-19 numbers are on the decline. Visitors will still be required to take precautions, including testing, quarantine, closed bubbles, and a base camp doctor.
The tourism department has already received reservations from more than 300 foreign climbers wanting to attempt the peak of Mount Everest in April and early May, the height of the climbing season. As travel restrictions abroad relax, that number may rise before the mountain opens. In 2019, climbing season saw a record 381 climbers. The Chinese side of the mountain, which usually sees approximately 20 percent of those attempting the peak, will remain closed this year, which likely means more climbers attempting via Nepal.
Depressingly, most of the expedition companies which have survived 2020 are not Nepalese, meaning an unsettling amount of those tourism dollars will not go to the impoverished country, but instead to foreign climbing companies.
Photo: The Mount Everest base camp. Credit: Daniel Prudek / Shutterstock.com