The number one question climbers are asking tour operators: What are your COVID-19 precautions?
Number two: When can I start climbing again?
“First and foremost, international air travel has been severely curtailed. Even if the parks were open and we were able to climb in the mountains, we are not able to get there safely and efficiently,” said Sean Kristl, director at Alpenglow Expeditions, one of the top guide companies in the world and a longtime Global Rescue Safe Travel partner.
Nevertheless, climbing companies are doing their best to mitigate the risk of coronavirus contagion in remote mountains. Many hope this fall will be the start of the 2020 climbing season.
“The signals we’re getting from contacts in various countries around the world are all pointing toward fall 2020 for a return to the high-altitude mountains of the world,” Kristl said. “This is when we can begin to have confidence in booking air travel, locking in logistics, and we’ll have a clear vision of what the pandemic is doing.”
We asked Kristl for his insight on what climbers should expect this fall.
Coronavirus affects the respiratory system, so is high-altitude climbing a non-starter?
For a healthy climber, high-altitude climbing during the pandemic is no different than before, aside from a ramped up level of hygiene in camp and at altitude.
Of course, if a climber has contracted COVID-19 before heading to the mountains, any type of international travel and hard physical exertion is inadvisable.
If a climber contracts COVID-19 while on an expedition, the protocol would be to immediately quarantine them in a hotel for a minimum of two weeks and with that, any thoughts of climbing are done for.
Does your Rapid Ascent program minimize coronavirus exposure?
Our approach to high altitude mountains reduces the overall time spent in-country and naturally reduces the amount of exposure in a foreign country. Our program ensures we arrive to the mountains pre-acclimatized, feeling healthy and strong because we are able to avoid the long, health depleting days and weeks of acclimatization in-country that occur on traditional expeditions.
What new testing protocols has Alpenglow Expeditions put in place?
With the proliferation of reliable tests, all international guides will be tested for COVID-19 prior to the start of an expedition they are guiding. We’ll also require clients to have a negative test within a week of departure, giving our teams assurance that everyone is healthy when they leave home.
What should climbers look for in a tour operator or climbing guide?
- Make sure your guide service has a solid COVID-19 protocol in place that includes hand washing, general camp and gear cleanliness and health screening for both clients and guides prior to departure.
- Ask about cancellation policies. Some guide services are offering relaxed cancellations policies to give peace of mind to those who want to make reservations but are unsure about the future.
- Inquire about the size of the climbing group. Smaller sized groups means there will be minimal clustering in enclosed spaces.
- Make sure the parks you’re planning to climb in are open and accepting climbing permits. A professional guide service will do all the leg work for you and should have permits in hand before you set foot in-country.
- Check if there are any virtual education programs. Climbers can sign up for remote classroom learning in preparation for a day with a guide in the field. This prevents the need to cluster in an enclosed environment and also has the added benefit of allowing students to learn at their own pace.
We’re seeing reservations starting to come in for expeditions like our Ecuador School and Chile Backcountry Ski adventure. How the pandemic either recedes or finds a second wave this summer will tell us a lot about our plans to return this fall. We can all begin to dream again about adventures in far off lands and now is the time to start making plans for your return.