Climbers on Mt. Everest’s south side, near Camp 3. Instead of closing the entire peak during the Olympic Torch summit bid, as requested by China, the Nepalese Government has decided only to close the south side of Everest up to Camp 2 until May 10. [Photo] Brad Clement / Spindrift Films
On March 10, China announced it was closing the north side of Everest to climbers because of the Olympic Torch summit bid, and it pressured Nepal to do the same for the south side (read more in the March 19, 2008 NewsWire). Instead of making Everest completely off limits, the Nepal Ministry of Tourism has decided that climbers won’t be allowed any higher than Camp 2 on the south side until after May 10, 2008. This decision didn’t come a second too soon, as south-side expeditions were in limbo without permits during the negotiations.
More than twenty teams have been granted permits recently, and ten or so more are still being processed. However, this year Everest permits contain specific instructions issued by the Nepalese Government about what climbers are not permitted to do. These restrictions include an anti-protest rule (“The team shall not carry and exhibit any things like flags, banners, stickers, pamphlets or any audio visual devices that may harm bilateral relationship between Nepal and China”) and a ban on communication (“All the news regarding the expedition must be conveyed to the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation first of all, and only then it can be sent to others”). Teams are also required to keep their electronic devices locked up at a police station in base camp until May 10.
Tom Briggs from Jagged Globe said that getting permits for Everest is normally a formality, but this year it has been a very tense and drawn-out process. Everest guide Kenton Cool and Mark Gunlogson, president of Mountain Madness, also said that their teams received their permits after many delays and lots of uncertainty.
“The real issue has been whether or not there would be a workable solution that did not impact groups to the point that they did not have enough time to acclimate, stock camps and so forth. The solution, such as it is, did not happen until the eleventh hour—our group started the trek in without a permit in hand, but fortunately it all came together,” Gunlogson said.
Expedition leaders are optimistic about their summit bids. Briggs and Cool reported that the Ministry has said that all restrictions will be lifted once the torch reaches the summit or on May 10, whichever happens first. Cool and Gunlogson agree that the May 10 deadline is reasonable in terms of acclimation and timing. However, if China doesn’t get the torch to the top by then, Gunlogson worries that the ban may be extended, cutting into an already-small summit window.
To enforce the restrictions the Nepalese Army will have soldiers stationed from base camp up to Camp 2. The permit restrictions issued by the Nepalese government aren’t clear on what the consequences will be for teams found above Camp 2 before May 10. Cool and Gunlogson agree that defying the restrictions will not be taken lightly by the Nepalese government, and a total ban on Everest may be enforced as a result. Briggs said that violence may not be out of the question. “Presumably if you were seen moving on the ropes of Camp 3 they [the Nepalese Army] might take a pot shot?”
It is unclear exactly how the unusual restrictions and their consequences will play out for teams on Everest this season. Briggs, Cool and Gunlogson said that they are doing the only thing they can: wait to see what happens.
“That China imposed its political will in this way is maybe unfortunate, but there is much more at stake for Tibet, and I think that it needs that perspective to put all this in its proper context,” Gunlogson said. “Now, people who have spent a lot of money to get to Everest and built their dreams around the chance to climb the mountain may disagree with this, but it is much larger than that.”