We’ve been keeping a close eye on the trekking and climbing season in Pakistan over the past couple of months, openly speculating as to whether or not there would be any teams heading to the Karakoram this year. After the tourism sector in Nepal saw a devastating spring following the closure of Mt. Everest and the Himalaya in general, we wondered if the Pakistanis would face a similar fate. As it turns out, despite the fact that the country is open to visitors, no one seems willing to risk visiting there at a time when travel remains risky and the virus continues to spread.
According to Stefan Nestler’s Adventure Mountain blog, the travel sector in Pakistan is—to use his words—on its knees. Nestler was in contact with Mirza Ali Baig in Pakistan recently, and got the scoop on the current conditions from someone on the ground there. Baig, who runs Karakoram Expeditions, is quoted as saying, “Summer adventure tourism is almost off. There is no possibility for mountaineering, trekking is also not taking place. Not even a single local group.”
Originally, there were more than 25 mountaineering expeditions that had purchased climbing permits for K2, Broad Peak, Nanga Parbat, and other mountains in Pakistan this summer. Apparently, none of them have traveled to the country so far, and none seem to be expected in the days ahead. Traditionally, by late June or early July, the teams have at least started to gather in Islamabad or Skardu, but that isn’t happening.
Right now, the situation in Pakistan in regards to COVID-19 isn’t looking great. The country has seen more than 215,000 cases of the coronavirus so far, with the numbers climbing by 4000+ each day. More than 4400 people have been confirmed to have been killed by the virus, although that number is generally felt to be much lower than the actual total. At the moment, the virus is not contained in any way either, which means traveling there could be extremely dangerous.
Considering how late in the season it already is, I don’t think we can expect a miracle turn-around for the Pakistani tourism sector in 2020. Nepal is at least starting to turn its attention to the fall climbing season, where expedition operators hope to salvage the year to some degree. That isn’t likely to happen for the Pakistani operators however, who will now have to hold on until next summer to see any kind of meaningful income. Let’s hope they can make it.