Windy Corner on Mount Denali’s West Buttress route in June of 2021. | Photo © Michael Moss, a Global Rescue 2021 Photo Contest submission

Alpha, Delta, Omicron. For more than two years, the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted international mountaineering, closing or limiting access to popular, challenging mountains worldwide. Where high-climbers were permitted to go, they faced tough COVID-19 protocols to prevent spreading the disease in the region and within their climbing group. Often, those precautions worked, but not always.

The Global Rescue Difference 

A Look Back at 2021

The pandemic climbing experience has taught a few lessons to guides and climbers alike. Lukas Furtenbach owns Furtenbach Adventures and says he shouldn`t have run expeditions on Mount Everest last spring when few people were vaccinated. “Now, with all staff and clients vaccinated I have less concerns,” he said. 

Harshvardhan Joshi, a 26-year-old IT engineer and native of Vasai, India, may be one of the most talked-about mountaineers to summit Everest in 2021 because he did so a few days after recovering from COVID-19.  

A month of patiently waiting at Mount Everest Base Camp and a few hours before setting off for the summit attempt, Joshi tested positive for COVID-19. He didn’t want to give up. “I am acclimated to this altitude. I have extra supplemental oxygen,” he said.   

Asymptomatic and fully vaccinated, he elected to isolate in his tent for 11 days, reminding those who questioned him that he had Global Rescue, and, if he had even the smallest complication, he wouldn’t hesitate to initiate an emergency rescue. He eventually tested negative and was cleared to continue his expedition. On May 23, he reached the summit. 

Looking Forward to the Upcoming Season 


Mera Peak in Nepal at 6,440 meters (21,130 feet). | Photo © Santosh Khatelsal, a Global Rescue 2021 Photo Contest submission

It’s unclear what COVID-19 or its variants will mean for the upcoming spring climbing season. But experts are making predictions based on their experience and observations.  

“Like most things, high-climbs in the Himalayas are still unclear,” said Dan Stretch, operations manager for Global Rescue who is regularly based in Nepal during the Mount Everest climbing seasons. “Last year Mount Everest hit record permit numbers but it happened very late. Climbing rules relating to COVID-19 were unclear and responsible expedition organizers took it upon themselves to research and follow best practices for their groups – social distancing, hygiene, vaccinations for staff,” he said.  

Stretch says the COVID-19 infection numbers were high among climbers. “There aren’t any official numbers as reporting was unorganized and discouraged but there were large groups where all climbers got COVID-19,” he said.  

Stretch expects much of the same for Nepal in 2022. “Responsible expedition organizers will take precautions and enforce rules to protect their climbers and the local community. Some low-cost operators will not,” he said.  

Mark Gunlogson, Mountain Madness, predicts everything is a moving target due to travel restrictions and spikes in COVID-19 cases. “The only real thing to expect is to be ready for the unexpected. Where we have had climbers go on international trips we’ve had good results with our trips and people not getting COVID-19,” he said. 

Gordon Janow, Alpine Ascents, agrees that climbers and trekkers should expect an everchanging set of rules and entry requirements. “We really haven’t seen much in the way of COVID-19-related evacuations this winter, so perhaps the stringent guidelines helped. I think for those whom travel is a lifestyle, they will continue to do so. Those who can sit back and push a climb like Mount Everest off another year will likely do that,” he said.  

In South America, Lukas Furtenbach, Furtenback Adventures, says Aconcagua National Park will be open for a short window through mid-February but Argentina is still closed to international tourists. “Carstensz has the same situation. Mount Elbrus and Mount Kilimanjaro are open. Denali is open for U.S. citizens only. Trips are selling out so climbers are hopeful. I give it a 50% chance,” he said. 

COVID-19 Protocols of Which To Be Aware


After testing positive for COVID-19 at Everest Base Camp during the 2021 spring season, Harshvardhan Joshi isolated himself in a solo tent for 11 days. | Photo courtesy of Harshvardhan Joshi 

Legendary mountaineer and member of Global Rescue’s Mountain Advisory Council, Ed Viesturs, says the COVID-19 protocols are a challenge but seem to be working. “I just came off of the Antarctic continent from climbing Vinson. It’s been an interesting journey to get to Chile. It’s one of the strictest countries to allow incoming international travel. They require vaccinations plus a PCR test once you arrive,” he said.  

Viesturs noted that the expedition outfitter also employed tough COVID-19 protocols. “Everyone had to add an additional 5 days of travel simply to deal with the required testing. It’s a hassle for sure, but it ensures that once here we can maintain a sort of COVID-19-free bubble,” he said. 

Stretch advises climbers to vaccinate for Nepal. “It makes the entry requirements far easier. Nepal currently requires unvaccinated travelers to quarantine for 10 days on arrival, negative test and will need prior approval to travel. Vaccinated climbers can obtain a visa on arrival, along with negative test 72 hours prior to departure.  Travelers need to keep a close eye on these rules because they frequently change at short notice,” he said. 

Stretch predicts that 2022 will be wide open on Mount Everest. “If 2021 is anything to go by, there won’t be any limitations on group size. Expect record permits distributed with no enforced rules. Climbers should go with expedition organizers who take COVID-19 precautions seriously,” he said.  

Gunlogson expects the past year’s experience will streamline things for the 2022 spring season. “Travel restrictions by host countries have generally dictated what is required and that takes the pressure off guide companies to make some hard decisions. With the increasing availability of testing kits, smaller groups, staying places where there are reduced capacity accommodations all makes it is possible to navigate the obstacles posed by COVID-19,” he said. 

Janow agrees that testing is essential. “Self-tests are good for climbers to carry, and expedition operators should have them as well. These were effective for us last year when we had no clients test positive all season,” he said.  

Furtenbach’s outfit has mandatory, vaccination requirements for all members and staff, plus additional PCR tests as needed. 

“Climbing by its nature is socially distanced and if climbers and organizers take precautions seriously, then it can be done safely,” Stretch said.  

Gunlogson advises all guide companies to have flexible cancellation policies, and climbers should have robust travel protection. “Now, more than any time I can recall, travel insurance and medical evacuation protection are essential for people to avoid losing money if their trip is disrupted due to COVID-19 or unwillingness to risk traveling,” he said.  

Viesturs is keeping his eyes open. “It’ll be interesting to see what countries like Nepal, Pakistan and China require for entry this spring. Outfitters will instigate their own protocols to protect their clients as well as their business operations,” he said.