Thursday, March 13, 2008

Chinese government closes north face of Everest

The Chinese government has banned all expeditions on the north face of Everest until May 10th. Though they haven't specifically said so in their official pronouncements, in the weeks leading up to May 10th, the government plans to have a team of Chinese climbers summit the world's highest peak with the Olympic torch in preparation for this summer's Olympic games. This decision widely viewed as a reaction to a fear that Tibetan protesters may interfere with the Chinese climb. Not surprisingly, Tibetan activists see this "torch event" as one further attempt by the Chinese to legitimize their control of Tibet.

Mountain guide companies and independent expeditions around the world are working to reschedule their trips. Some guide services plan to reroute their trips onto the south side of the mountain, while others are postponing their expeditions for later in the season. To read more on this story in The Seattle Times, please follow this link.

Though weather and conditions can be different every year, the historical best days for summiting Everest are May 15 to 25. If the Chinese don't let teams approach the north side until after May 10, they will have little chance of summiting at any time close to that good weather window because it takes so long to acclimatize and gradually move supplies up the mountain.

The Chinese are also trying to impose their worries and wishes on the Nepalese government, and they have asked Nepal to similarly restrict climbs on the south side of the mountain. The Nepalese are apparently considering some level of cooperation.

The American Alpine Institute/ Adventures Consultants 2008 Everest Expedition runs March 30 to June 2 and will again be climbing the South Col route.
Expedition leader and AC Director Guy Cotter has been in regular touch with Nepalese authorities, and it is our hope that if there are any restrictions, they will be limited to keeping teams at or below Camp 3 until after May 10th, rather than keeping them at base camp. If so, the restriction won't have much impact on the expedition.

There is also wide worry that the Chinese will lose climbers in the process. China has a history of pushing teams on the mountain and a high fatality rate. We can speculate, that because of that proclivity, there will probably be a high level of secrecy surrounding the Chinese expedition. Deaths experienced for the sake of Olympic torch PR is probably not an outcome that will work well for the Chinese, and that potential problem may actually be occurring to a few people in high places in the government - then again - perhaps not.

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