The Nepalese government has closed Mount Everest ahead of its busy spring climbing season as a 'precaution' against the coronavirus outbreak

Mount Everest.
Mount Everest.

Daniel Prudek/Business Insider

  • Mount Everest has been closed to for the popular spring climbing season, which, weather permitting, lasts from March to May.

  • The Nepalese government followed Chinese officials in announcing that they will not be issuing climbing permits. 

  • This “is a precaution” against the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai said.

  • “Breathing is already a challenge at high altitudes, so an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, a severe respiratory disease, among the climbers would be particularly devastating,” according to expedition company Furtenbach Adventures.

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Fears about the coronavirus pandemic reached new heights on Friday when Mount Everest was closed ahead of the busy spring climbing season.

At least eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains are located in Nepal, which earns an estimated $4.4 million a year in permit fees from people hoping to scale Mount Everest, the Kathmandu Post reported. Those funds not help the government, but also support local sherpas, luggage porters, hiking agencies, and others who guide climbers up some 400 Himalayan peaks.

Despite that, officials have made the call to halt expeditions from March through May. That’s the only window of good weather, sandwiched between the monsoon season, which usually begins in June, and the end of the frigid winter.

“Climbing this season has been closed,” Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai told Reuters, noting that this “is a precaution” against the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

As of Friday, the coronavirus has infected more than 136,000 people and caused over 5,000 deaths across the globe.

News of Nepal suspending climbing permits came amid the country reporting its first COVID-19 case. The patient is a student who studies in China but tested positive while visiting his home country, according to Reuters. 

Mount Everest soars over 29,000 feet above sea level on the border between Nepal and the Chinese region of Tibet and draws hundreds of thrill-seekers every year.

Chinese officials on Thursday said that they were pausing their permit program, USA Today said. 

Nepal issued a record 381 permits for Mount Everest in 2019, which led to traffic jams as people waited in line to climb, National Geographic said. Eleven people died during the last climbing season.

Climbers attempt to scale Mount Everest.
Climbers attempt to scale Mount Everest.

Rizza Alee, File/AP Images

“Breathing is already a challenge at high altitudes, so an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, a severe respiratory disease, among the climbers would be particularly devastating,” Furtenbach Adventures, an expedition company, said in a statement, according to USA Today.

And Adrian Ballinger, found of Alpenglow Expeditions, which leads climbers on expeditions worldwide, issued a statement underscoring why Nepal made the decision.

“While canceling a climb is never an outcome we want, this time, it’s the responsible thing to do. A COVID-19 outbreak at base camp would be dangerous and potentially devastating,” his statement read, per Reuters.

Debashish Biswas, from India, was preparing for an Everest expedition in 2020. It’s been 10 years since his first ascent so he was excited about his celebratory adventure, the mountaineer told Reuters. 

“This is a big setback,” Biswas said.

The country, which also plans to stop issuing visas until April 30, was last forced to interrupt its climbing season in 2015. An earthquake struck near the capital of Kathmandu, killing about 9,000 people and wounding nearly 22,000 others. The magnitude-7.8 temblor caused an avalanche, which killed 18 people at the Everest base camp. It rattled the area so hard that Mount Everest was shift about an inch to the southwest, according to a survey by China’s National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation.

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