Covid-19: Dubai mountaineer contracts virus while climbing Nepal peak; rescued
Tima Deryan, the youngest Arab woman to climb Everest, was airlifted from Mera Peak in Nepal
‘Am I dead? Who are these angels looking at me?’. These were the thoughts running through the mind of a delirious Dubai-based mountaineer Tima Deryan when she was stranded 5,000 metres above sea level on a peak in Nepal.
The activist and mindset coach was struck down by stomach flu when she was attempting to scale the Mera Peak in Nepal over the weekend, but never imagined it could be Covid-19.
However when she was at 5,000 metres above sea level, she was gasping for breath in the rarified atmosphere and called it quits, before being evacuated by helicopter.
Speaking to Khaleej Times via video chat from Nepal’s capital, Tima said she is happy she made it out alive. “I didn’t realize I had coronavirus. We were under the assumption that I had the stomach flu, which is common when climbing high altitudes. At one point, my oxygen saturation levels were at 50 per cent. It’s a miracle I survived because I had gotten very sick,” she said.
Only after she was rescued and tested again for Covid-19 in Kathmandu, did she realise she was positive. “At one point, when we were at a lodge on the peak, the Sherpa, my partner, and the owner of the lodge were over my head, looking at me. I thought to myself… Am I dead? Who are these angels looking at me? I was hallucinating at one point,” she said.
Tima was symptomatic, but did not take it seriously; she suffered a fever, chills, a severe cough, nausea and diarrhoea, and several other Covid-19 symptoms. Despite her illnesses, Tima kept going before calling it quits.
A Dubai resident for 22 years, Tima began mountain climbing six ago. She is the first Lebanese and the youngest Arab woman to climb Everest. She has scaled six out of the seven summits, which is the highest mountain in every continent. A seasoned mountaineer, Tima took a two-year break from climbing amid the pandemic.
At 6,476 metres, Mera is classified as a trekking peak. Climbers contracting Covid is not unheard of in Nepal and Norwegian climber Erlend Ness was the latest to be evacuated on April 24 this year. Nepal has issued 377 permits this year to climb the mountain, and the final number is expected to exceed the 381 handed out in 2019.
“There were many other medical evacuations that were happening. I wasn’t the only one,” said Tima.
“My partner Kamal and I had planned the expedition till May 20. After Mera, we were going to scale the Baruntse mountain, which has an elevation of 7,129 metres,” said Tima.
The expedition and how things turned worse
The couple chose the Mera and Baruntse peaks for this expedition as they are not popular among climbers. “We did a pre-departure PCR test in Dubai and did a second one after we arrived in Kathmandu. Before I set out on the expedition, I had gone out to buy some things I needed for the trek,” she said suspecting she may have contracted the virus in Nepal.
Tima and Kamal arrived in Nepal on April 17. After a short stay in Kathmandu, the couple set out for Lukla, a small town in the Khumbu Pasanglhamu rural municipality, where they found their tour guide and began their trek. “When I started the trek, I felt strong and happy to be back. There were very few people who were attempting the trek. It was just two other teams and us. We assumed there was no way we can get Covid here,” she said.
On the third day, the team stopped at a tea house at 3,000 metres altitude. “It was empty, and we were cautious. We had our sanitizer, everything was clean, but that’s when I started feeling feverish. I asked my partner if it must be Covid… but we laughed at shrugged it off,” he said.
While, in hindsight, it may have been advisable for the couple to stop their trek, Tima said she kept going ahead.
Matters got worse by day three
“The next day, I started feeling a bit weak and had a persistent cough. Everyone is way ahead of me in the trek. I thought it was from the weather and was walking slow. Instead of the usual three-hour hike, it took me five hours. I was dizzy, nauseous, and felt my body shutting down,” she said. As the days progressed, Tima’s condition worsened.
“I was shivering, and it had begun snowing. My heart was pounding. I couldn’t get out of the sleeping bag. I couldn’t take two steps; I would get dizzy and collapse,” she added. Over the days, she couldn’t eat food or drunk water due to nausea. Finally, at 5,000 metres and the fifth day of the trek, when the couple were at a lodge, they decided to call for a rescue helicopter.
Once the couple were back in Katmandu, it was found that both Tima and Kamal were Covid positive.
They have quarantined in a hotel in the city and are awaiting to test negative so they can return to Dubai. “Kamal had it once in February. This is his second time. Luckily, he isn’t symptomatic. I was able to survive, thanks to him. Even now, I cannot walk five steps without feeling dizzy,” she said.
Tima advised adventure and thrill-seekers to exercise caution, minimize risk and exposure, and get an insurance policy covering evacuation and medical sickness.
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