KATHMANDU, Nepal – Two climbers, a Swiss-Pakistani and an American, have died on Mount Everest, the first fatality in a busy climbing season when a second wave of the coronavirus battled Nepal.
Seven Summit Treks, the expedition company that organized their climbs, said both men were seasoned climbers who lost consciousness in Mount Everest’s “death zone”, an area over 8,000 meters named for its thin air and brutal weather would have.
When the climbers died on Wednesday, the wind on Everest had increased. Climbing tourists and most of the Nepalese guides who are helping them turned their backs on the summit Thursday as weather conditions tightened.
Puwei Liu, 55, a veteran climber from California, died in the first camp below the summit after attempting an unsuccessful summit attempt Wednesday, according to Chhang Dawa Sherpa, a director of Seven Summit Treks.
After standing on Everest on Wednesday, Abdul Waraich of Switzerland, 41, died on the southern summit – near Mount Everest’s summit – as he descended towards lower camps, Sherpa said.
Shortly before his death, Mr. Waraich achieved the rare feat of reaching the summit of all seven highest mountains in the world, according to Billi Bierling of the Himalayan Database, which records the climbing records of mountaineers.
Deaths while climbing are not uncommon, neither from avalanches, snowstorms or earthquakes, nor from altitude sickness. 11 climbers died in 2019, and some of those deaths were attributed to the hours of traffic jams that can occur on the crowded trail to the summit.
The Nepalese tourism department and the agency that organized their expedition ruled out any connection with the coronavirus that is devastating the small Himalayan country. Instead, they blamed altitude sickness. As with many of the hundreds who died attempting Everest, no autopsies were planned due to the remote locations of the bodies.
“No Covid. They died of altitude sickness. If they had Covid, they would not be able to reach this altitude, ”said Mingma Sherpa, chairwoman of Seven Summit Treks.
The General Director of the Tourism Department, Rudra Singh Tamang, agreed.
“It is impossible to reach that height when someone is infected with the Covid,” said Tamang.
“The weather is not good. So it is not certain when to bring back bodies or if they should do PCR tests as climbers used to have no Covid symptoms, ”he added.
However, since last month, coronavirus fears have settled on the mountain after several climbers attempting to climb Everest were evacuated from base camp and later tested positive for the disease, according to climbers and hospitals where some were treated .
After losing an entire season – and millions of dollars in revenue – to the closure of Everest during the first wave of the pandemic in Nepal last spring, the country issued a record number of climbing permits this year. More than 400 people had hoped to reach the summit in the narrow window in the spring, when the weather is usually calm enough to attempt a summit.
Officials have denied that climbers at Everest base camp were Covid-19 positive. They insist that anti-virus measures that were put in place before the climbing season were working.
Outside of the peaks, the Nepalese health system is under incredible strain from a plethora of new cases, reflecting the ferocity of the second wave in neighboring India.
As hospitals run out of beds, vaccines are scarce and infections are increasing faster than clinics can record, the Nepalese Ministry of Health classified the situation as “unmanageable” last week.