It is a major setback for climbers around the globe as the Nepal government put a ban on all of its Himalayan peaks including the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest due to the threat of the widespread coronavirus epidemic.
Though the decision was the need of the hour, many climbers, who have trained for years to scale mountains especially the Everest this year, found the ban was a big blow as the climbing season has just begun. The new move of the government would cost heavily on its revenue and impact on several groups dealing with the foreign climbers on these peaks.
Banning Climbers in Nepal
On Friday, March 13, 2020, the Tourism Minister of Nepal, Yogesh Bhattarai announced that all expeditions to the peaks of the country for the March-May spring season had been suspended. In response to a question of whether the closure was due to the rise of the threat of coronavirus outbreak, he said, “It is as a precaution for that.” On the previous day, China, which shares the Everest in the region of Tibet, closed its side of the mountain.
Nepal, a country which is home for eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains including Mount Everest, earns about $4.4 million annually in the permit fees from foreign hikers who come to scale especially the world’s highest peak. What makes climbers more disappointed was that a good climbing season, bestowing weather that relieves from the end of the bitterly cold winter and before the beginning of the rainy season, has just arrived.
This is the second time that the climbing got canceled. The hiking expedition was suspended by the Nepal government after a major earthquake hit the country on April 25, 2015, which killed nearly 9,000 people. Meanwhile, Nepal has confirmed only one case of the coronavirus, out of which 450 people tested, from a student studying in China on a trip home.
Impact on Guides and Agencies
A member of the Alpenglow Expeditions firm, Adrian Ballinger said, “While canceling a climb is never an outcome we want, this time, it’s the responsible thing to do,” Ballinger added in a statement, “A COVID-19 outbreak at base camp would be dangerous and potentially devastating.”
However, several agencies and staffs including guides for the expeditions were devastated by the new move of the government as it would have a grave impact on their incomes. The cancellation will affect not only the government’s income on permit fees but also the livelihood of several hiking agencies including Sherpa guides.
Foreign climbers normally spend a huge amount of money to hike more than 400 mountain peaks of Nepal, which were the main sources of guides’ annual incomes to support their families for the year. According to a source, 381 climbers registered to climb Everest last year.
Dambar Parajuli, the president of the Expedition Operators’ Association (EOA), said, “a permit for Everest costs $11,000 and a foreign climber hoping to climb Everest spends up to $60,000 in all, on the permit, wages for guides, porters, kitchen staff, transport, hotels, and food.” Parajuli told Reuters, “The financial cost of the cancellation hasn’t been calculated but it’s a very huge amount.”
Indian mountaineer Debashish Biswas, who had planned an expedition to Everest this spring to mark the 10th anniversary of his first ascent, said the decision was a “big setback.” Meanwhile, according to a government official, the Nepal government would announce to stop issuing visas on arrival until April 30.
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