Tibetan and Chinese climbers atop Mt. Everest (8848m), having successfully relayed the Olympic torch to the summit this morning, May 8, 2008. The ascent marks the first time an Olympic torch has reached the summit of the world’s tallest peak, a promise that China made when they bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games. [Photo] Xinhua / torchrelay.beijing2008.cn
A “summit assault team” of nineteen Chinese and Tibetan mountaineers reached the summit of Mt. Everest (8848m) today, May 8, at 9:18 a.m. local time, with the Olympic flame. The ascent marks the first time an Olympic torch has reached the summit of the world’s tallest peak, a promise that China made when they bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games.
Seventy climbers were initially selected to begin training for this objective sixteen months ago. Led by Wang Yongfeng, about half of the original seventy began the expedition from Rongbuk Glacier base camp in late April. Poor weather, including heavy snowfall on May 2-3, slowed the team, but better conditions early this week proved encouraging. Chinese authorities had hoped the torch would reach the summit by May 10.
Nineteen of the thirty-six climbers were selected to make the summit push, which began this morning at 1:45 a.m. from “Attack Camp” (8300m). Thirty meters from the summit, at 9:12 a.m., Norbu Zhamdu lit the torch. Climbers then passed the torch in a relay to the summit. They held up one Chinese and two Olympic flags at the top, where they stayed for about an hour.
The supplementary torch was designed by a Chinese aerospace company to stay lit in severe winds at high elevation with little oxygen. While the supplementary torch summited Everest, the main Olympic torch was in Guangdong Province, having arrived in mainland China on May 4. The host country aims to have the relay go through each Chinese province before reaching Beijing in early August.
Keeping tight control over the relay ceremony on Everest, Chinese authorities enforced a media blackout (excluding an official media team) on the north (Tibetan) side of Everest. On the south side Nepalese authorities, in compliance with China’s communication and protest restrictions, confiscated satellite phones and recording devices, and evacuated journalists and a climber, William Brant Holland, who was in possession of a “Free Tibet” banner, from Everest base camp. These restrictions, compounded with last-minute decisions and changes regarding rules for climbing Everest this spring, generated extreme friction between climbers and both Chinese and Nepalese troops and officials (more information is available in the April 29, April 9 and March 19, 2008 NewsWires). According to statements made earlier this spring by the China Tibet Mountaineering Association, climbing restrictions will be lifted unconditionally beginning Sunday, May 11.
Much of the friction at base camp and beyond stems from a widespread belief that China, for decades, has imposed a “heavy-handed suppression” over the Tibet Autonomous Region; in protest, Tibet-China-related demonstrations have erupted across the globe, spurred by Olympic torch relays that visited so many cities this spring.
The Olympic torch summiting Everest comes at a poignant time, four days after Chinese officials and envoys of the Dalai Lama met in Shenzen to resolve differences. Lodi Gyari, a Dalai Lama envoy, reported that some proposals for future agendas were created, but that the two sides still “disagreed more than we agreed.”