Expeditions at the time of COVID by Giampaolo Corona
Published on 19/05/2021
This is my fifteenth mountaineering expedition between the Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindu Kush, but if I prefer to call them journeys, life experiences.
This time the destination is Ama Dablam (6820 m) to climb alone fast & light.
A well-tested physical and mental training, the study of the mountain, travel and gear planning, air flights booked etc... That’s routine for me. Before COVID19.
Now everything is more complicated.
The global situation is constantly changing, I studied the country situation (Nepal), made continuous updates, confirmed international flights, got PCR tests before the flight, I am also vaccinated. It all seemed quiet. When I left, Nepal also ended the quarantine obligation and reopened all the activities (restaurants, shops, and green light for trekking and expeditions).
The outward trip went smoothly (it was 9th April). Staying in KTM, internal flight to Lukla, trekking in the Khumbu Valley. I am alone but I feel calm, in tune with the country, the people and the mountains.
I first climb Lobuche Peak East (6119m) fast. 6 hours round trip starting from the village of Lobuche. The same day I go to Dingboche and the next one I reach Ama Dablam base camp at 4600 m of altitude. I study the mountain and do acclimatization rotations by placing a tend at 5800m.
The weather is variable but I don't wait too many days so on the 29th I leave the BC and reach my tent. I rest for a few hours and leave at night. I skipped C2 and C3 and in about 8 hours I reach the top. The weather is worsening, it starts to snow, the descent is slower than expected due to 40 cm of fresh snow; however, at 6 pm I reach my tent at 5800 m, the idea of taking it down and continuing to BC attracts me but then the reason prevails. Too dangerous in deep snow and dark. And I begin to feel tired. So I wrap myself in my sleeping bag and the next morning in a couple of hours I reach the BC safely.
My return flight was on 10th May and I try to anticipate it but the airline had canceled all flights to Italy until 10th. “Okay “- I think – “I'll stay here, walk around to see new places”.
I had no idea what was going to happen.
I start the return trek on May 4th with the idea of stopping in Lukla for a few days, since I have received news that KTM is in lockdown.
News escalation. Internal flights suspended. On May 5th, the Nepalese government suspends all international flights until the 14th. Thanks to my flight agent, I find a flight for May 15th.
I arrive in Lukla on April 5th and spend my days doing long runs of trail running, I find the shops and lodges open. “Better here than KTM” I think.
On day 11, since the weather is getting worse and the one-way Lukla-KTM flights have resumed, I take an internal flight and reach KTM in full lockdown.
We have to stay in the hotel. Only the food shops remain open from 7 to 9 AM. Pharmacies are open 24 hours per day. Travel is prohibited except for authorized ones. I was supposed to spend a few days waiting for my return flight scheduled for May 15th.
In the evening, I get the news that my Etihad flight has been canceled (the Emirates have canceled flights from Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh). My flight agent finds me another one for the same day. I take a breath. Better go home. The COVID19 situation is rapidly worsening here with many positive cases in the city and also in base camps. In neighboring India, the situation is dramatic.
The same evening, the Civil Aviation of Nepal announcement arrives. All international flights are canceled until May 31st ...What a blow!
What to do?
In the hotel there are several climbers and trekkers returning from the mountains. I talk to them. It’s best to contact the respective Embassies for the possibility of a charter flight to an airport outside Nepal.
There are many mountaineers and trekkers who will reach KTM in the next few days and then return to their respective countries. How do they keep us all stuck here until May 31st?
Days go by slowly, from 7 to 9 AM we can go out of the hotel, but we have to stay inside during the rest of the day. I go out just to buy some fruit, after all it is not safe to stay out due to the risk of contagion. Streets are deserted, people all with masks, there is fear.
The news of possible flights to repatriate tourists follow one another, everyone wants to go home.
I discovered that there is a gym in the hotel with treadmills so I spend a couple of hours a day there.
By now I have lost count of how many PCR tests I have done, the nurses come to the hotel to do it.
Better like this, so we are all monitored.
I await news from the Embassy to understand when I can take a flight and finally return home.
Giampaolo Corona, born and resident in Trentino (Dolomites, Italy) is a mountain guide, helicopter rescue technician and mountaineer. He completed 15 expeditions outside Europe, climbing 9 8000 m in Nepal, Pakistan and India. Grivel favorite products: Air Tech Evo Ice axes, G12 crampons.