On Thursday, a Nepalese government official told the Kathmandu Post that all spring Mount Everest expeditions have been canceled due to coronavirus concerns. The official spoke with the Post on the condition of anonymity but on Friday, a notice from Nepal’s Department of Immigration confirmed the rumor.
“Considering the declaration of [the] World Health Organization regarding the scale of COVID-19 spread,” the notice reads, “all the permits for mountaineering expeditions issued, and to be issued for spring 2020 season are suspended.”
Nepal is also suspending all on-arrival tourist visas through the end of April.
“This is disappointing news for both our expedition leaders and our clients who have trained for months for this year’s climb,” Lukas Furtenbach, founder of Furtenbach Adventures, said in a release. “We continue to emphasize safety and wellbeing above all...so we understand the dire consequences a COVID-19 outbreak at Base Camp would have. Sadly, we have to agree that this is a responsible call to make right now.”
Gordan Janow, director of programs at Alpine Ascents International, said that they’d already moved their trekking trips to the fall and next spring. Their Everest trip was set to run with three guides and six clients.
Mount Everest sits on the border between Nepal and China. On Wednesday the Chinese government announced that no expeditions would be allowed to run on the northern, Tibet side of the 29,029-foot mountain.
This will be the quietest year on Everest since 2015, when a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck the region on April 25, just as climbers were settling in to Base Camp. That year was the first since 1974 without a single summit during the spring season.
Nepal’s economy relies heavily on the tourism industry, which accounts for almost 8 percent of its GDP. Everest permits earn the government around $4 million each year. A single two-month season on the world’s highest peak can earn a Sherpa up to seven times the country’s average annual salary of $700.
“This is a big deal, it’s devastating to the industry,” said Adrian Ballinger of Alpenglow Expeditions, who already canceled his Everest expedition after China put an end to the spring season on the north side of the mountain. “The money that comes in not just from the climbers, but from the trekkers who go during the Everest season supports the entire year for every family I know in the Khumbu and many people in Kathmandu. The loss of that income is going to be really, really difficult for the locals here.”
Ballinger and his team are trying to figure out what partial wages they can offer the 23 Sherpa staff they were set to employ this season. “Of course I would like to give 100 percent of what the clients paid back,” said Ballinger. “But when canceling two weeks, or 30 days before a trip, that’s not the right call. We have to share in this pain.”