2 climbers die on Everest as pandemic rampages through Nepal

  • >>Bhadra Sharma, The New York Times
    Published: 2021-05-14 01:05:26 BdST

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Mount Everest, the world highest peak, and other peaks of the Himalayan range are seen through an aircraft window during a mountain flight from Kathmandu, Nepal January 15, 2020. REUTERS

Two climbers, a Swiss-Pakistani and an American, have died on Mount Everest, the first fatalities of a busy climbing season as a second wave of the coronavirus batters Nepal.

The expedition company that organised their climbs, Seven Summit Treks, said both men were experienced mountaineers who lost consciousness around Mount Everest’s “death zone,” an area above 8,000 meters (about 26,000 feet) named for its thin air and brutal weather.

When the climbers died on Wednesday, the wind had picked up on Everest. Climbing tourists and most of the Nepalese guides who aid them turned away from the summit on Thursday as weather conditions grew more severe.

Puwei Liu, 55, an experienced climber from California, died at the first camp below the peak after making an unsuccessful summit attempt on Wednesday, according to Chhang Dawa Sherpa, a Seven Summit Treks director.

After standing on top of Everest on Wednesday, Abdul Waraich of Switzerland, 41, died at South Summit — close to the Mount Everest summit — while descending toward lower camps, Sherpa said.

Just before his death, Waraich achieved the rarefied feat of reaching the summit of all seven of the world’s highest mountains, according to Billi Bierling of the Himalayan Database, which chronicles mountaineers’ climbing records.

Nepal’s tourism department and the agency that organized their expedition ruled out any possible link to the coronavirus that is ravaging the small Himalayan country. Instead, they blamed high-altitude sickness. However, as with many of the hundreds who have died attempting Everest, no autopsies were planned, because of the bodies’ remote locations.

“No COVID. They died of altitude sickness. Had they COVID, they wouldn’t be able to reach at that height,” said Mingma Sherpa, Seven Summit Treks’ chairman.

The tourism department’s director general, Rudra Singh Tamang, agreed.

“Reaching to that height is impossible if someone is infected with the COVID,” Tamang said.

However, since last month, fear of the coronavirus has clung to the mountain after several climbers planning to summit 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 Nepal’s first wave of the pandemic last spring, the country issued a record number of climbing permits this year.

 

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