Over the past month or so, there has been a lot of speculation surrounding the summer climbing season in the Karakoram. With the coronavirus restricting travel across the globe, it looked like that season would be cancelled for sure. But yesterday, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan gave a glimmer of hope to those who would like to travel to his country this year, although the question remains as to whether or not anyone will actually come.
In an address to the nation, Khan indicated that despite the fact that the coronavirus continues to be a challenge, Pakistan can’t afford to keep its people and economy on lockdown. In his address, the PM charted a course to reopen all business sectors, including domestic tourism. He is especially keen to get tourism up and running in the Gilgit-Baltistan region, which is where most foreign trekkers and climbers go when visiting the country. Khan told the Pakistani people that they are going to have “live with the virus” as the country moves forward.
Unlike some other countries that are reopening after a lockdown, Pakistan is unfortunately not heading in the right direction in terms of number of infections and deaths. As of this writing, the country has seen more than 80,000 cases of the coronavirus so far, and nearly 1700 deaths. The number of new infections and fatalities is not just increasing either, but accelerating. Worse yet, a new government report that leaked to the Pakistani press yesterday indicated that these official numbers are just a fraction of the actual COVID-19 cases. The report says that the city of Lahore has about 670,800 cases on its own.
What does this mean for the Karakoram climbing season? As previously discussed, that season looks to be all-but cancelled already. Most of the commercial climbing teams have indicated that they have cancelled their 2020 expeditions to K2, Broad Peak, and Nanga Parbat, with most now turning their attention to the increasingly unlikely fall season in the Himalaya instead. Still, there is a chance that we could see a few small, independent teams making their way to the mountains of Pakistan, although even that sounds like a risky proposition. While climbing, it is fairly easy to socially distance from everyone else, but in order to get to Base Camp, mountaineers will have to travel through airports, on flights, and visit densely populated cities, in place where the virus does not seem to be contained in any way, shape, or form.
At this point, I suspect it is a long shot that we’ll see any Karakoram expeditions at all this summer, unless they mirror what we just witnessed on Everest. Like China, Pakistan could allow climbers from within the country to launch their expeditions. The difference is, there are far fewer Pakistanis with the resources and wherewithal to take on such an expedition.
It’s starting to look like we’re going to have a very quiet summer in terms of adventure travel and exploration.
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