When the window of fair weather finally opens, there is likely to be a scramble for the summit of Everest
Despite the coronavirus scare, it has not deterred climbers from making attempts on various peaks of Nepal, including Everest, this spring mountaineering season. In fact, the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation issued permits to a record 408 climbers to scale the world's tallest peak during the March-May season, breaking the earlier record of 381 permits issued in 2019. A 16-member expedition of the Bahrain royal guard, led by Prince Mohamed Hamad Mohamed Al Khalifa, was the first to get the permit after the 8,848.86-m peak reopened to climbers. According to the Department of Tourism, so far 150 climbers have summited Everest, with other aspiring climbers waiting for brief windows of fair weather, the only time the mountain is accessible.
Everest apart, another 334 climbers are on various other mountains, all waiting for fair weather to make their assault on the summit. But a powerful cyclone, Tauktae, which is moving from the Arabian Sea towards India's western coast has adversely influenced the weather in the Himalayas, with the climbers urged to abandon climbing until the weather improves.
With less than two weeks to go before the climbing season comes to an end, such unexpected adverse weather adds to the anxiety of the expedition members. Due to the cyclone in India, strong winds, rainfall and blizzards are expected in the mountains. So climbers at higher camps have been advised to descend to safer areas, which could see crowding of climbers and support staff at a time when increasing COVID infections have been detected at Everest base camp. This was the reason why Furtenbach Adventures decided to call off its expedition last week. According to its managing director, some teams simply did not observe the precautionary measures, with meetings, celebration and parties being held, which led to a spike in infections. And the risk of infection increases at higher altitude camps as there is even less space there. It is not without reason that China abruptly cancelled Everest climbs from its side last week for fear of importing the coronavirus from Nepal, although earlier it had said measures would be taken to prevent its climbers from coming into contact with those on the Nepali side.
The bad weather is expected to last for some more days, and when the window of fair weather finally opens, there is likely to be a scramble for the summit of Everest and other peaks by climbers in their hundreds.
Can a traffic jam on Everest, as seen in the spring of 2019 and during all previous years, be prevented? Most unlikely. This is worrisome, as expeditions this year are taking place in the midst of the second wave of the coronavirus, which has already infected several climbers, who had to be flown to Kathmandu for treatment. There are plenty of lessons to be learnt from the ongoing expeditions while planning for the fall mountaineering season should the pandemic continue to haunt the country with all its severity. This spring season seems to be doing pretty well, despite an Everest expedition's cancellation, two deaths on the mountain and a few COVID infections among the climbers. But mind you, in this pandemic, a single infection is already one too many.
Perhaps inspired by the Nepali migrant workers in the Gulf countries, where they are working hard for the wellbeing of their families back home, some businesspeople, social workers and philanthropists have also started extending their helping hands so that COVID-19 patients can get oxygen and other needed goods in hospitals. These are signs that there are people who are trying their best to provide the much-needed oxygen to those in great need.
Coordinated by Dhangadhi Sub-Metropolitan City, some individuals and private institutions have announced financial contributions to install an oxygen plant at a Dhangadhi-based hospital so that the people hospitalised there can get oxygen without hassles.
The soon-to-be-installed plant will have a capacity of filling 15,040 litres of cylinders every day, which will be enough to meet the current demand.
What we need to understand is that nobody is safe until everybody is safe from the virus. We can defeat the virus within a short period of time if we work together and help each other in this time of emergency.
If the low-income migrant Nepalis from the Middle East can raise money and send oxygen cylinders to their country, why can't we do the same here?
A version of this article appears in the print on May 19, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.