Many restrictions were imposed on Everest mountaineers this climbing season due to the Olympic torch being carried to the summit from the Tibet side. While no other groups were allowed on the Tibet side, climbers on the Nepal side could only ascend to Camp 2 until the torch had been to the summit and communication equipment was banned. The team carrying the torch summitted successfully on May 8 and the climbing is back in full swing from the Nepal side.

A team of 31 Chinese and Tibetan climbers were selected to be part of the team and ultimately five of them summitted on May 8 at 9:18am local time. Special torches that can burn at high altitudes were lit just below the summit and relayed up by the climbers. A flame from the main Olympic torch had been carried in a special lantern up to this point. Two women were among the summit team, Huang Chungui (Chinese) and Ciren Wangmu (ethnic Tibetan). Tibetans in general have found this to be provocative in that they claim it is China’s way of saying that Tibet belongs to it.

The Tibet side of Everest was closed to other climbers this season. And while some broadcasts were made by the state run television station from Base Camp, the whole event was shrouded with much secrecy. Tensions have been high due to the anti-Chinese protests in Lhasa which have made international headlines recently. The Chinese did not want any protests around Everest, nor did they want the summit event disrupted by protest banners on the summit!

Wanting to maintain good relations with Beijing, the Nepal government complied with demands to impose restrictions on teams climbing up from the Nepal side. At first there was a delay in opening the route through the Khumbu Icefall to Camp 1, following which the route only up to the next camp was opened.  Armed Nepalese soldiers guarded the area to ensure no-one climbed further than Camp 2 until the torch had been to the summit. This of course hampered logistics and acclimatisation schedules , to the frustratation of many climbers.

To make matters worse, video cameras and satellite phones were banned from the mountain. Climbers were only permitted occasional email which was monitored. Journalists and trekkers were barred from Base Camp too.

An American climber, William Brant Holland, was banned from the mountain and deported after a pro-Tibet banner was found in his bag. He now faces a two year ban from climbing in Nepal.

With the torch having been to the top, the restrictions were finally lifted and the teams could continue climbing, with some having made it to the summit already. Other teams are well underway on their summit bids as the climbing season draws to a close. A short window of relatively calm weather usually precedes the arrival of the Monsoon rains, generally in the beginning of June.

The broadcast of the Olympic flame on the summit of Everest may be viewed here.


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