Did you think that Mount Everest was closed for the season? You’re not alone. But a handful of climbers have already summited Mount Everest in 2020, and more are waiting in the wings.
Yes, China announced that it was closing the north side of the mountain in Tibet back on March 11, citing growing concerns over the coronavirus. A few days later, Nepal followed suit, shutting down the south side too and effectively closing the world’s highest peak just ahead of its busiest climbing season.
But despite those announced closures, earlier today, a group of sherpas managed to reach the summit of the mountain. If everything goes according to plan, two more teams will soon make the ascent as well.
While this may take many spectators by surprise, a few teams of climbers have been on Everest this spring. Not long after China proclaimed Everest closed for 2020, government officials backtracked slightly on that decree.
In late March, just as most of the rest of the world was going into lockdown in an effort to contain COVID-19, China was already on the road to recovery. Because of this, officials announced they would allow a commercial team consisting of 25 mountaineers — all of whom are Chinese nationals — to climb the mountain this year.
In early April, that team arrived in base camp, where they found another group already waiting for them.
Surveyors to Remeasure Everest Height
With so few climbers heading to Everest this season, the Chinese government decided that 2020 would be a good time to remeasure it. Officially, the peak stands at 8,848 m (29,029 feet). But over the years, there have been some questions surrounding the accuracy of those numbers.
To determine the actual height once and for all, they sent a large group of surveyors to base camp in late March. Since then, they have been taking measurements of the mountain from several vantage points along the Tibetan Plateau using sophisticated equipment.
Some members of the survey team have also been gaining valuable mountaineering skills and acclimatizing to the altitude in preparation for an eventual summit push. Their goal is to carry an extremely accurate GPS measurement system to the summit to conduct further measurements.
Sherpa Team Makes First Ascent of 2020
At approximately 2:25 p.m. local time today, the first six climbers reached the top of Everest. The group was entirely made up of highly experienced sherpas whose job it is to install the fixed ropes to the summit.
Due to poor weather conditions over the past couple of weeks, high winds, heavy snow, and dangerous avalanche conditions, two previous attempts to reach the summit failed. But with time starting to run out, the team was able to finish its work and pave the way for the survey team and commercial squad to follow.
If everything goes according to plan, eight of the surveyors should reach the summit on Thursday of this week. Their goal is to spend some time alone on the top of the mountain while they conduct their measurements.
Once they have finished, the commercial climbers will take a shot at the mountain too, although that will likely take an additional day or two. Depending on the level of success these two groups find, we could see as many as 40 successful summits this year. That’s a far cry from the more than 900 that took place in 2019.
In addition to watching the weather forecasts closely, the climbers are keeping a close eye on the calendar as well. Each year, seasonal monsoons arrive on Everest in early June, which almost surely means this will be the last weather window of the highly unusual 2020 season.