The Chinese authorities have announced that the north side of Mt Chomolungma (Everest), which is in Tibet, will be closed to expeditions, and according to another reliable source, no group visas to enter will be issued until May 10, according to a news item posted on an adventure web portal, www.mounteverest.net
. The decision indicates that control of the route of the Olympic torch, which will be relayed from Lhasa to Mt Chomolungma, is of the highest priority to Beijing. The adventure and expedition website described the decision as a 'serious blow' to mountaineers and related personnel. It had previously been denied that China would limit the number of expeditions in 2008, which had been reported last year by ICT.
According to the same report, Chinese authorities had attempted to persuade the Nepalese mountaineering authorities to close the icefall on the south side of Everest this spring until May 10, and to try not to have summits during the period. Nepal has reportedly rejected this request, which is likely to be on the basis of substantial revenues that are received from major climbing expedtions.
John Ackerly, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said today: "This is an ominous indication of the controls that China is likely to impose as the flame travels from the top of Everest through Tibet. Beijing is using the Olympics torch ceremony, which should stand for human freedoms and dignity, to bolster its territorial claim over Tibet."
According to the same report, Cho Oyu will also be closed to climbers. An incident in September 2006 when international climbers witnessed the killing of a 17-year old Tibetan nun, Kelsang Namtso, by Chinese troops close to the Nepalese border, may have contributed to the Chinese authorities' decision to close Mt Chomolungma to expeditions. Western mountaineers at advance base camp on Mt Cho Oyu witnessed the September 30 shooting on the Nangpa Pass, which is one of the escape routes into exile used by Tibetans to enter Nepal, and a Romanian cameraman later provided footage of the incident that discredited the Chinese authorities? claim that they had shot at the Tibetan refugees "in self-defence".
The web portal, www.mounteverest.net, included an image of the letter sent yesterday (March 10) by the China Tibet Mountaineering Association to Everest north side expedition leaders.
The web portal commented: "Considering the need for acclimatization and infrastructure, climbing Everest north side this spring will be short of impossible. This is a serious blow to Everest climbers and related personnel, many of whom got the notice only one week before their Everest approach is due to begin." Following a meeting with the China Tibet Mountaineering Association last year, the President of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, Ang Tshering Sherpa, assured climbers that: "Rumors circulating in our national and international media that Mt.Everest will be closed to climb from the Tibet side are false. China will also not limit the number of expeditions in 2008."
www.mounteverest.net reported that in many cases, permit, porter, staff and infrastructure fees have already been paid. "Those who can afford it, choose to reroute to Everest south side - putting a dangerous strain on this side of the peak, with close to 70 permits reportedly issued there already this season," stated the well-known expedition website.