The past 12 months have been long and difficult ones for the country of Nepal. A year ago, as COVID-19 spread across the planet, the Nepali government was forced to cancel the high-profile and lucrative Himalayan trekking and climbing season. While necessary to help prevent the spread of the virus, the move left the travel-dependent economy in a shambles.
A year later, the coronavirus is still a serious challenge for most countries, although thanks to vaccinations and improved medical treatment an end appears to be in sight. This has prompted a new sense of optimism within Nepal, which is now preparing to welcome an onslaught of trekkers and climbers. As the month of April arrives, the Mt. Everest 2021 climbing season is about to get underway, heralding a return to some semblance of normalcy within the Himalayan nation. The question is, is it still too soon?
Everest Expeditions Cautiously Return
In 2019, Mt. Everest made headlines around the world thanks to a stunning photo taken by record-setting alpinist Nims Purja. The image was captured just below the legendary Hillary Step and showed a long line of climbers waiting to go up to the summit. The photo was held up as proof that the mountain has become too crowded, a common criticism for the past two decades.
Those criticisms aren’t likely to be voiced this year, as fewer teams are expected to be in Base Camp. While some of the more well known expedition operators will bring clients—including Altitude Junkies, International Mountain Guides, Madison Mountaineering and Furtenbach Adventures — others have chosen to stay at home. Companies like Alpenglow, Adventure Consultants, and Jagged Globe have elected to stay home, citing concerns over the continuing pandemic.
Of course, the local Nepali operators will be back in full force, with Seven Summit Treks leading the way. That company alone has been known to bring several dozen climbers, which means the mountain could still be very busy, even if it isn’t as crowded as 2019.
COVID Restrictions for Visitors
While Nepal is opening up to outsiders for the first time in months, it isn’t doing so without implementing some rules and regulations. Earlier this week its as announced that while a quarantine wouldn’t be necessary, climbers and trekkers would still have some hoops to jump through before departing from their home country and upon arrival in Kathmandu.
Those rules dictate that anyone visiting Nepal must provide proof that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19. If enforced properly, this alone should limit the number of travelers passing through the country’s borders. While vaccines have begun to rollout across the U.S., Canada, and parts of Europe, much of the rest of the world have found it the medicine to be short supply. Moreover, most of the vaccines require two shots to complete, with many people yet to receive the first of those injections, let alone a second follow-up.
Beside showing proof of vaccination, visitors to Nepal must also provide proof of a negative COVID test upon arrival as well. But even that isn’t enough to grant them passage into the Himalaya, as they’ll also have to stay in Kathmandu and take an additional test—at their own expense—before being allowed to proceed. The hope is that these measures will keep Everest Base Camp safe and healthy all season long.
Other 8000 Meter Peaks
Everest won’t be the only 8000-meter mountain to see the return of climbers this year. According to the Nepali Department of Tourism, the government has issued permits for Lhotse, Dhaulagiri, Manaslu, and Annapurna too. Both Nuptse ( 7861 m/25,791 ft) and Ama Dablam (6812 m/22,349 ft) are expected to host expedition teams as well.
The most concerning of these is Annapurna, which has seen 50 permits issued for the spring climbing season. That’s a lot of people for a mountain that is considered the most dangerous in the world, with a death rate that is even higher than the legendary K2. Most of those teams are already in Base Camp on the mountain and are preparing for an mid-April summit push.
Everest 2021 Climbing Season Schedule
While the other 8000-meter peaks will receive some attention from the outdoor and adventure media, the real headliner is Everest of course. After a year off due to COVID, there is expected to be a lot of attention focused on the mountain. The next six weeks in particular should be very interesting.
Right now, the climbers are just starting to arrive in Kathmandu. Assuming they clear COVID protocols, they’ll next fly to Lukla to begin the 8-10 day trek to Everest BC. Once there, they’ll start acclimatizing to the altitude, making several trips through the Khumbu Icefall to Camp 1 and 2. Once their bodies are accustomed to the thin air, they’ll wait for a weather window to launch their summit bid. Traditionally, that window opens sometime around May 10-15.
Good luck to all of the teams preparing for the Everest 2021 climbing season. After a long year of disappointment and difficult, it will certainly be fun to follow along with their progress. Stay safe and healthy on the world’s highest peak in the days and weeks ahead.