Mount Everest North Face
Everest will still be crowded, with perhaps 300 foreigners plus the same number of support climbers on the world’s highest peak. (Photo: oversnap/iStock)

China Just Closed the North Side of Mount Everest

For now, despite COVID-19 concerns, the Nepalese side is still open for business

Mount Everest North Face

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Operators running expeditions on the north side of Mount Everest were notified today that China has canceled all permits for the spring season due to the coronavirus

“I agree with the decision,” said Adrian Ballinger, founder of Alpenglow Expeditions. “We were leaning toward canceling based on news of the past week, and think that once again China is demonstrating leadership in prioritizing safety on their side of the mountain.”

Of course, the majority of Everest expeditions run on the southern side of the mountain each year, which is overseen by Nepal. But switching to the other side of the mountain is “not an option for Alpenglow,” according to a release from the company. “Nepal may follow China’s lead and shut down their season as well,” Ballinger said in the release. “Even if they don’t, the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak and the underlying issues of ascending from the south side, including the lack of effective management, overcrowding, and an unpredictable icefall, make such an expedition unsafe in our eyes. It’s not a gamble we’re willing to take.” 

However, Lukas Furtenbach, founder of Furtenbach Adventures, told me he would be moving his operation to the Nepalese side.

Last month, Nepal’s prime minister said, “Nepal is coronavirus-free.” And today outfitter SummitClimb sent an email to its clients about the lack of danger:

The Nepal Government reports one case of coronavirus. The person received treatment, has recovered, was retested and does not have the coronavirus now. Kathmandu airport staff are checking each traveler for fever, if any are found they are taken immediately to hospital. So far, no one has Corona virus [sic] covid-19. Most flights from China have been cancelled and all land borders with China are closed. India has a very low incidence of Corona Virus Covid-19 and India/Nepal border staff are checking each individual’s temperature upon entry.

Last week, Nepal put 71 people in quarantine after they returned to the country following Chinese New Year celebrations in Chengdu and Beijing. And Nepalese officials recently added visa steps for travelers entering from eight countries experiencing the highest levels of the coronavirus. The usual process for most visitors is to obtain a visa at the airport once they arrive. Now visitors from China, Iran, Italy, South Korea, and Japan must secure their visas in their home country before arriving in Nepal. A similar restriction will go into effect for travelers coming from France, Germany, and Spain starting on March 13.

Meanwhile, the Himalayan Times reports that the icefall doctors are on their way to Base Camp to begin fixing the route through the Khumbu Icefall. Sherpa guides working with Washington State–based International Mountain Guides are continuing on as usual and plan to build their campsite at Base Camp on March 21. 

If I were to guess, I’d say that Nepal will not close its side of Everest this year but that there will be fewer climbers than in 2019, when 1,136 people were on the mountain. Last week officials told me they expect the number of climbers to be cut in half due to cancellations from Chinese, Japanese, and Korean climbers. And I’ve been told directly from several western climbers that they will delay their Everest plans until 2021 due to virus concerns. But it will still be crowded, with perhaps 300 foreigners plus the same number of support climbers on the world’s highest peak.