According to this article over at The Alpinist, China is considering putting severe restrictions on access to Everest’s North Side once again in 2009. Possibly even closing the mountain altogether for a second straight year. The Chinese claim that they need to take steps to “clean-up” the mountain and protect it’s delicate ecosystem in order to insure that the region remains ecologically sound.
Most of you will recall that China shut down the North Side this past spring as well, in order to give their teams full access to the mountain as they carried the Olympic Torch to the summit. Their restrictions included having Nepal limit access and communications from the South Side as well until after the Torch had topped out.
The move was made to give the Chinese climbing team the freedom they needed to take the Torch up, in what amounted to one big publicity stunt. But shutting off the mountain also prevented climbers from making anti-Chinese statements, or hosting “Free Tibet” flags at the summit. These restrictions followed days of unrest in Tibet that saw it’s entire borders shut down, and no visas issued to foreign visitors.
The rumors have been circulating for weeks that Tibet would remain closed to outsiders until after the Olympic Games, which are scheduled to begin on the 8th of August. Many expected it’s borders to re-open this Fall, although the Chinese crackdown there could continue beyond that as well.
Closing Everest for another season won’t hurt the Chinese all that much. Sure, they’ll lose a bit of money from not having climbers buying permits, but they’ll gain a lot more in keeping the foreign press away from what’s happening in Tibet. The people who are really hurt by this are the local Sherpas who make their living guiding climbers on the mountain or tourists around the country itself. And while I applaud China’s efforts to protect Everest’s ecosystem, this may be the first time in years that they’ve actually thought about the environment. Recently, they’ve been more concerned with their industrial growth than they have been with protecting the Earth.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens, but last year around this time the first rumors began to ripple through the mountaineering community about Everest being shut down, with many laughing them off at the time. Now, a year later, it doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility. After this past season, anything can happen!
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