KATHMANDU, Nepal — In April at Mount Everest base camp, the place climbers acclimatize to the acute altitude earlier than heading to the summit of the world’s highest peak, Jangbu Sherpa fell in poor health with a cough and fever.

At 17,590 ft, his signs shortly worsened. The expedition firm that had employed Mr. Sherpa to assist a Bahraini prince climb Everest had him airlifted to a hospital within the capital, Kathmandu, the place he examined constructive for Covid-19.

He spent per week on the hospital and 6 days at residence, after which was again at base camp. Skilled guides like him from Nepal’s high-mountain-dwelling Sherpa neighborhood had been briefly provide due to the pandemic, and the expedition firm stood to lose 1000’s of {dollars} if the prince’s climb had been canceled.

So, along with his physique nonetheless preventing the vestiges of the virus, Mr. Sherpa, 38, probably grew to become the primary individual with Covid-19 to face on Everest’s pinnacle when he led the prince and 15 others there at daybreak on Could 11. By the top of the climbing season early this month, not less than 59 contaminated individuals had been on the mountain, together with 5 others who reached the highest, in keeping with interviews with climbers and expedition corporations and the non-public accounts of social media customers.

“Had been Sherpas and climbers supermen?” mentioned Ang Tshering Sherpa, a former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Affiliation. “This problem deserves in-depth analysis.”

However in keeping with the Nepal authorities, there was by no means any Covid-19 on Everest. Tourism officers dismissed the accounts of climbers, calling one a pneumonia patient. Coughing, they added, is nothing new within the dry mountain air.

Nepal’s tourism division, which oversees Everest expeditions, maintained this place whilst individuals had been being airlifted off the mountain and expeditions had been being canceled — a uncommon occasion due to the good expense and energy made to coach, journey to Nepal and attempt to summit Everest.

In April, a Norwegian climber, Erlend Ness; a British climber, Steve Davis; and others wrote on social media about having Covid-19 throughout their Everest expeditions.

“From 2 hospitals final 3 days. As we speak I’ll have a PCR check. Hope to go away the hospital quickly,” Mr. Ness wrote on Facebook, posting a photograph of himself in a masks in a hospital mattress.

Nepal, one of many world’s poorest nations, has been fighting a dire coronavirus outbreak and a shortage of vaccines. Few Sherpas or different Nepalis had entry to vaccines whereas the climbing season was underway; even now, as the federal government pleads with wealthy nations for doses, lower than 3 % of the inhabitants has been totally inoculated.

Officers had robust incentives to minimize the Covid state of affairs on Everest. Nepal closed its peaks in 2020 due to the pandemic, after bringing in additional than $2 billion from climbing and trekking in 2019. If the Covid-19 instances had been publicized, it might tarnish Nepal’s picture as a vacationer vacation spot, and invite climbers whose expeditions had been canceled to demand extensions of their climbing permits.

Nonetheless, with this yr’s climbing season now over, extra expedition companies are acknowledging that Covid-19 infections had been rampant within the crowded base camp, which drew a report 408 overseas climbers this yr. The true variety of instances could possibly be far greater than 59, since expedition organizers, medical doctors and climbers themselves mentioned they had been pressured to cover infections.

The Nepal authorities had made some preparation to keep away from infections on the mountain. It instituted testing, masks and social-distancing necessities, stationed medical personnel on the Everest base camp and had helicopters able to swoop in and decide up contaminated climbers.

Expedition corporations, which frequently convey their very own medical personnel, additionally packed antigen kits, testing members of their teams repeatedly and isolating anybody who examined constructive.

Given that each one climbers needed to check detrimental earlier than beginning the trek to base camp, it’s probably that almost all of these with Covid-19 grew to become contaminated whereas on the mountain, although it’s attainable that some arrived with infections that weren’t initially detected.

There have been compelling causes for expedition corporations to proceed with climbs, whilst the primary coronavirus instances had been reported at base camp from the final week of April to the primary week of Could.

That they had laid out greater than 60 % of their budgets. The federal government of Nepal had obtained $4.6 million in royalties. Sherpas and help workers had been deployed. Ropes had been quickly to be mounted in place. Meals, cooking gasoline and different provides had been hauled up by employees and yaks to the makeshift metropolis of colourful tents the place climbers keep for 40 days, permitting their lungs to regulate to the altitude and ready for a window of clear climate to make the ascent.

A number of Sherpas and expedition corporations interviewed by The New York Instances mentioned that not less than three or 4 individuals from every expedition group had been finally contaminated throughout their keep at base camp.

Lukas Furtenbach of Furtenbach Adventures, which canceled its expedition, sending climbers again to Kathmandu earlier than they may try to summit Everest, estimated that the tally was far higher than The Instances’s rely.

His firm’s expedition ended after an American climber and three Sherpa guides had been evacuated from base camp to the capital, the place they had been hospitalized for Covid-19. Mr. Furtenbach has written to Nepal’s tourism division requesting that the federal government lengthen his climbers’ permits by two years.

Rudra Singh Tamang, the director basic of the tourism division, mentioned he had no details about Mr. Furtenbach’s attraction or these of different expedition companies despatched to his workplace to increase climbing permits.

“We are able to’t simply lengthen climbing permits on foundation of Covid rumors,” Mr. Tamang mentioned.

“Whether or not their expeditions had been canceled due to Covid-19 or not, that needs to be examined,” he mentioned.

With only a few Sherpas having been vaccinated once they arrived at base camp, dozens contracted Covid-19. Some had been airlifted out. Others remoted of their pup tents and climbed to greater camps after recovering.

Phunuru Sherpa of Worldwide Mountain Guides mentioned 10 Sherpa guides on his workforce fell sick with Covid-19.

Of the greater than 400 overseas climbers making an attempt to scale Everest, nearly half deserted their expeditions, both due to Covid-19 infections or due to a cyclone that brought on snowstorms within the Himalayas.

Scott Simper, a climber from Utah who lives in New Zealand, reached Everest’s peak on Could 11, in keeping with his spouse, Anna Keeling, a mountain information.

“He didn’t know he had Covid on the mountain,” she mentioned. Mr. Simper discovered of his an infection solely after testing constructive days later in Kathmandu, the place his expedition firm quarantined him at a resort for 12 days. His spouse mentioned he was nonetheless recovering from the illness.

Mr. Ness, the Norwegian climber who described his bout with Covid-19 on social media, was airlifted from base camp to a hospital in Kathmandu. Medical doctors suggested him to not return to the mountain, so he flew residence to Norway. The Everest expedition had taken three years to plan and price him $40,000, plus hospital charges in Nepal. He doesn’t anticipate to get any a refund.

Mario Celinic of Croatia mentioned he examined constructive at Everest base camp. He had skilled for Everest for 4 years, climbing a number of the world’s different highest peaks. Struggling no signs, he determined to proceed to the highest.

“‘You might have Covid and also you have to be cautious,’ this got here into my thoughts, as a result of Covid impacts the lungs and that will be tough to breathe above 8,000 meters’ altitude,” he mentioned.

“That mountain is sort of a stunning flower that can kill you anytime. It attracts you. It’s essential to come, you’re admired. And while you go as much as 8,000 meters, you’re fully helpless. Regardless of the mountain decides, that can be your destiny,” Mr. Celinic mentioned.

Bhadra Sharma reported from Kathmandu, and Emily Schmall from New Delhi.