Since the coronavirus pandemic began, many of us have been daydreaming about our next cheap holiday.
Erlend Ness, however, did more than just armchair dreaming. With much of the world locked down, Erlend headed to the Himalayas lured with a promise of a free guide. The experienced Norwegian climber, however, ended up being medevaced from Everest Base Camp. He now has the dubious honor of becoming the first person infected with COVID19 on the rooftop of the world.
A cheap climb the reason for flouting Government travel rules
With much of the world experiencing, or expecting, another round of lockdowns, spare a thought for the tourism and travel industries. There is no more obvious sign of a global pandemic than the empty airports, beaches, and bars where once tourists thronged in their masses.
Many governments worldwide, including Norway, have restricted or banned, all forms of travel in an effort to contain and curb the coronavirus. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has, until May 15, advised Norwegian citizens against all but the most essential of travel.
However, there is one flip side to this global shutdown. For those lucky few that can still vacation and holiday, a lack of demand has seen prices plummet. This was the reasoning behind Trondheim native, Erlend Ness, recent escapades in the Himalayas. A seasoned climber, Ness, decided to head to the Himalayas to try and trek Mount Everest. Talking with Sky News, he said that his guide had offered “free guiding so it was an easy decision to go”.
Third time unlucky for Ness, winds up in hospital isolation
This was his third attempt at climbing the world’s toughest peak. In 2018, his fight attempt at scaling Mount Everest was thwarted by thieves that stole his party’s oxygen cylinders, just hundreds of meters from the summit.
His next attempt was last year but travel restrictions squashed that plan. The lure of a free guide was the major reason why Ness chose to ignore the government’s travel advice and try to reach the summit of Mount Everest a third time.
Ness has been tested before leaving Norway and presented a negative coronavirus test upon his arrival in Kathmandu, Nepal. Having reached the South Everest base camp (a mere 5364 meters above sea level) he began to feel unwell on April 10.
Being an experienced climber, he began suffering what he thought was altitude sickness and dehydration. According to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), he stayed three days at the Base Camp receiving oxygen and suffering a bad case of diarrhea.
On April 15, he became so sick that he had to be flown, via a helicopter, down to a hospital in Kathmandu. He is now in isolation having been diagnosed with coronavirus and pulmonary edema.
Climbing wasn’t exactly “COVID safe” as Nepalese government denies cases
Ness now has the dubious honor of becoming the first person to test positive to COVID-19 whilst on Mount Everest. A Sherpa in his climbing party has also contracted the virus. However, the Nepalese Ministry of Tourism has denied any reports of COVID-19 infections with the mountaineers.
Mira Acharya, a spokesman for the Ministry, told AFP, that “A person was evacuated on April 15 but we were informed that he is suffering from pneumonia and is being treated in isolation…” However, Ness was adamant, that his diagnosis was COVID-19.
Ness accepts that he could have done better to ensure safer infection control measures. He felt that it is “difficult to wear a face mask when you get over 7000 meters and have to use oxygen. Before that, it is entirely possible…” However, he felt it was down to individual responsibility and he had “probably failed” to carry out a coronavirus-safe climb.
Nepal has only recently opened its borders up for tourism and allowed mountaineers to climb Mount Everest again. Sharing a border with India, there is a fear that a new surge in coronavirus cases there could flow into the landlocked country. As of April 28, there have been, according to Worldometer, 312,699 cases of coronavirus, and 3.211 deaths in the country.
In the footsteps of Sir Edmund Hilary, who first climbed the peak in 1953, Ness is unsure whether he will manage another attempt. However, this trip for Ness has seen him become the living embodiment of Sir Edmund’s famous quote about Mount Everest, that “it is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”