Icefall Doctors Depart for Everest Base Camp Ahead of 2020 Climbing Season

The 2020 winter climbing season isn’t even officially over yet (see here!) and we’re already starting to look ahead to the spring season in the Himalaya. Today, it was announced that the Icefall Doctors—the team charge with finding and maintaining the route through the Khumbu Icefall on the South Side of Everest each year—have left for Base Camp, officially kicking off what will likely be a very unique, interesting, and busy season ahead.

According to The Himalayan Times, the eight-person team is led by Ang Sarki Sherpa and also includes a two-person kitchen team to help provide meals while in BC. The entire group is expected to reach the mountain in just a few days time.

Once there, they’ll conduct a ground survey to search for the safest and shortest route through the dangerous icefall, which is situated between Base Camp and Camp 1 on the Everest. If everything goes according to plan, they will begin installing ropes and ladders by early next week with the goal of having the route open all the way to Camp 2 by the time the first commercial teams arrive in early April.

This news comes as a cloud of uncertainty sits over the spring climbing season in Tibet and Nepal. Reports indicate that the coronavirus could greatly reduce the number of climbers coming to the big 8000-meter peaks this year, there are even some rumors that suggest China could close down its borders in Tibet altogether.

The virus, which originated in China, has now spread to more than 50 countries, with 116,000+ cases, and over 4000 deaths. This has sparked international health concerns, even as entire countries close their borders to help keep the virus from spreading. So far, those efforts don’t seem to have slowed its progress much, nor have they prevented the outbreak—also known as COVID-19—from spreading further.

Nepal, which has launched a major tourism campaign for 2020, has already seen a decrease in the number of visitors because of the virus. Now, there are predictions that the number of climbers on Everest this year could be as few as half of the number from last year.

That’s good for safety on the mountain, but bad for Nepal’s economy, which depends heavily on trekkers and climbers visiting each year. For now though, this is mostly rampant speculation and it seems it is business as usual. We won’t know for sure until the teams begin gathering in Kathmandu and preparing to leave for Base Camp on Everest or any of the other major 8000-meter peaks.

With the real start of the spring climbing season coming on April 1, we still have a few weeks to go before things start to really pick up steam. Between now and then though, we should have some interesting news and insights to share. I’ll post anything interesting that comes our way, but it could be a very eventful lead up to the start of the season.

Kraig Becker