www.TibetanReview.net, Mar 31’08 (Webbed Mar 13, updated Mar 14)
Citing “crowded routes, environmental pressure and “potential safety problems”, China announced on Mar 10 that both Mt Everest and Cho Oyu were closed for foreigners until May 10 or possibly Jul 2008, with only Chinese climbers being allowed, reported Mounteverest (NY) Mar 10, IANS Mar 11 and DPA Mar 13. The Chinese have closed Everest for the Olympic torch relay, although they had repeatedly guaranteed they wouldn’t, the Mounteverest report and others said.
As a result, trekking companies had to cancel confirmed climbing expeditions. For example, Eric Simonson, co-owner of Ashford’s International Mountain Guides, had to rush to reschedule treks for two groups, said TheNewsTribune.com (US) Mar 11. “All climbing activities are cancelled,” DPA news agency, likewise quoted a tour operator from Lhasa-based Polar Land Exploration company as saying Mar 13. “If you want to register, you have to wait until July.” Polar Land has said Chinese tourists may still be allowed to travel to Everest Base Camp while foreign tourists could travel to the nearby Rombuk monastery, from which the summit of Everest is visible in clear weather.
Last autumn China introduced a new rule whereby mountaineers should climb in mostly national teams and apply for permit at least 2-3 months ahead to allow political screening. This, the report noted, led to far fewer teams this spring season compared to other years. And the Cho Oyu peak is several days away from Everest, is rarely climbed in spring and only a handful of mountaineers were headed there this spring, said the report.
The real reason for the new Chinese restriction, the report noted, was, its worst nightmare of a picture of the flame on Everest summit, alongside a climber holding up a “Free Tibet” sign. This was reported to be the reason why China was trying to convince Nepal to close the peak from the south side too during the Chinese Everest climb.
Nepal, usually ever accommodating of Chinese concerns on politically sensitive Tibet related matters, was yet to reply. The reason was such a ban would create a furore and grim opposition from the Sherpa community and mountaineering agencies, whose bread and butter come from the expeditions to the peak, said the IANS report.
Having issued the ban order two days earlier, including by email to a mountaineering source in Nepal with operations on the Tibetan side of the Everest, the China Tibet Mountaineering Association on Mar 12 denied having issued a ban order, reported the AFP Mar 13. Nevertheless, on Mar 14, Nepal, under obvious pressure from China, declared its acquiescence to the Chinese request. “Expedition teams will not be allowed to move from Nepal’s Everest base camp from May 1 to May 10,” ABC Online (Australia) Mar 14 quoted Nepal’s Tourism Minister, Mr Prithvi Subba Gurung, as saying. The minister was further quoted as saying, “We have received a request from China not to allow people on the mountain while the Olympic torch is on Everest.”
The report saw the ban as clearly a move to prevent pro-Tibetan protests while China takes the Olympic torch to the roof of the world.