May 28, 2021
All of the IMG climbers are now back to Kathmandu and only Ang Pasang and six staff remain at Base Camp to get things packed up once the current snowstorm ends. I wanted to take this opportunity write a closing note to all of our IMG friends and climbers, keeping in mind that IMG’s Everest 2021 expedition is one that none of us will soon forget. For over two years these climbers, the IMG team in USA, all of their families as well as our entire expedition support team in Nepal have worked tirelessly to make this Everest 2021 expedition season happen. It has almost been like climbing the mountain twice.
IMG gives kudos and thanks to everyone who played a part. First, we had a great team of courageous and admirable climbers on the mountain in 2021 and I am proud to say that IMG was a part of their journey. You and your families and supporters did hard duty this year. Many of you went through the mental setbacks of the 2020 CV-19 outbreak and the reschedule of the climb you intended and had prepared to do last year. You all went through a subsequent year of attempting to maintain fitness in a world in which nothing was normal. You all risked the challenges of international travel when the progression of vaccination worldwide and protocols remained uncertain. Despite all odds, you courageously tried to go climb that mountain, and that is the true measure of mountaineers. I celebrate you all!
What a roller coaster ride it has been since the Government of Nepal closed its borders, suspended entry visas and then suspended climbing permits in March 2020. The IMG 2020 expedition had already launched, some climbers were already in Nepal and the bad news arrived just a few days before the rest of our IMG team was due to arrive. The entire IMG client team had trained, planned and prepared, only to face devastating personal disappointment at the same time as the entire world faced an even greater global pandemic crisis.
I have to give a special nod to the Sherpa team that has so loyally supported IMG for decades. They are our backbone in Nepal, and I know CV-19 has hit them hard. Over the past year IMG has tried to support our Sherpa team as the pandemic and subsequent governmental lockdown left them without jobs and unable to work, with nothing to back them up like the government-sponsored unemployment benefit programs other nations enjoy. Many thanks go out to every one of our IMG friends and past clients who have made generous contributions to our Sherpa Fund. That wealth sharing has made a huge difference to these men and women and their families in surviving the personal and economic devastation of CV-19. Their need for support will continue, as Nepal is not out of the woods yet. Give if you can. 100% goes to the Sherpas.
Conducting an Everest expedition in 2021 takes a special plan, and we had one. From the very beginning we set the bar very high for our entire expedition team including clients and Nepal staff, with our goal to do everything in our power to isolate and prevent the spread of CV-19. While some expedition teams worked on getting their flat screen TV’s, queen beds and espresso machines to Base Camp, we worked on sourcing over 2,000 CV-19 test kits. Our sincere thanks go to one of our climbers, Dr. Kris Brickman, for his role in making that happen. Those test kits were a huge asset for our expedition and enabled us to repeatedly test all our team members, including our Sherpa staff, over the course of the entire expedition, starting on the Trek to BC and right on through to the last day at Base Camp. By utilizing testing we were able to immediately isolate the very small handful of individuals who did test positive during the trip and immediately shift them to quarantine.
The results speak for themselves. We were able to put a solid group of climbers on the summit of Everest and Lhotse. This was due in part to our CV-19 protocols, the diligence of our climbers to train, prepare and adhere to our protocols, and also due to an accurate and patient reading of the weather forecast by Jonathan, Ang Jangbu, and Greg. They timed our ascent to the upper mountain camps to take advantage of a small window of good weather, and our summit teams threaded the needle. Again, I can not give enough praise to the weather forecasters, the IMG leaders, and the summit climbers who patiently hung in there and waited until Mt. Everest said “Yes”.
After our beautiful Everest summit day on May 23, and with the expedition drawing to a close, our thoughts immediately turned to how we would responsibly reintegrate the IMG Sherpas back into their home villages and protect their families. Before discharging any of our Sherpa staff from Base Camp, we did one final round of CV-19 testing and the entire IMG Sherpa team (47 individuals) tested negative. Then, we sent each of them home along with a generous supply of test kits to ensure that they could re-test over the next few days to prevent spread into their villages and also to test their families if that became necessary. Had any tested positive, we were prepared to set up a fully supported camp for them down at lower elevation where they could safely quarantine before going home. It saddens me to say that some expeditions discharged Sherpas who had tested positive for CV-19, knowing full well that they were headed immediately back to their villages and families.
At times like this, my mind rewinds the tape back to the early 1980’s when I first began my life’s work on Mt. Everest. I was in my mid 20’s, strong and bull headed, ready to go to battle with Mt. Everest until I reached the summit, or died trying. Back then it was binary, either you made the top or you did not, and you might need to make two, three, or even four attempts to finally get it done. Now I am an old mountain goat and I know that there is so much more to mountaineering than just tagging the summit. When you go home and look at yourself in the mirror, you need to be able to say that you did the best you could, and did the right thing, win lose or draw.
Our entire 2021 Everest team can do that. Thanks again to all of our IMG climbers, our IMG USA and Nepal staff, and our friends and families. You should all be proud of what you accomplished, together.