EVEREST 2008Climbers on the world's highest mountain have been particularly challenged this season -- not by altitude, weather or even the stream of guided climbers who clog the camps and flanks of Everest like cholesterol in the artery to the summit. This season the crux could be getting past the cops now posted around the base and at Camp II (21,300 feet) on the Nepal side.
Climbers on the world’s highest mountain have been particularly challenged this season — not by altitude, weather or even the stream of guided climbers who clog the camps and flanks of Everest like cholesterol in the artery to the summit. This season the crux could be getting past the cops now posted around the base and at Camp II (21,300 feet) on the Nepal side. The peak has been commandeered by the government of China, host of the 2008 Olympics, and will be closed to climbing until the Olympic torch is taken to the summit on its relay to Beijing.
Not only have climbers been prevented from making summit bids on the Nepal side (the Chinese-controlled Tibetan side is completely closed to private expeditions this season) during the best weather window, May 1 through 10, they have had their bags searched and “non-essential” expedition materials have been confiscated.
Members of a Canadian expedition reported losing laptops, satellite phones and camera equipment. Video cameras are specifically banned from basecamp, and a spokesman for the Nepali Home Ministry, Mod Raj Dotel, stated that “anyone found with anti-Chinese material” will have his or her permit cancelled.
This is the first time that security forces have been deployed on Everest. Dotel says, “They have been ordered to use force if necessary to stop any anti-Chinese activities. This could mean shooting if necessary.”
The hard-line rhetoric and threats of violence come after weeks of pro-Tibet protests coinciding with stops on the Olympic torch relay, notably in Paris, London and San Francisco, where tens of thousands of demonstrators turned out to denounce China’s violent annexation of Tibet in 1950 and subsequent human rights abuses, which have included the killing, rape and torture of Buddhist nuns and monks.
On September 30, 2006, a young nun was shot and killed by Chinese border guards close to the climbing basecamp on Cho Oyu. She was one of over 70 people attempting to cross a pass and enter Nepal to escape persecution in Chinese-occupied Tibet. Thirty refugees were captured and sent to prison, and climbers (including Americans) were sequestered, searched and interrogated.
Predictably, many climbers are incensed, citing possible dangerous logjams brought on by the reduced weather window. In an interview with the German paper Frankfurter Rundschau, Italian alpine superstar Reinhold Messner called the torch relay to the top of Everest a farce.
“China is to blame for this mess,” said Messner, who climbed Everest alone and unsupported in 1980 without supplemental oxygen. Why do they have to take the Olympic flame up there in the first place?”
Mountaineers are also taking an ideological stance in favor of Tibet. The prominent French Groupe de Haute Montagne (GHM) has asked that all national and international mountaineering associations, clubs, guides and mountaineers stand against this ascent and publicly condemn it.
The GHM stated: The Olympic torch on Everest is completely inappropriate, offensive for the Tibetan population, degrading for the Himalaya in general and Everest in particular.”
Six-time summiteer and senior Everest guide Luis Benitez agrees. “The reason I canceled going to Everest this year is simple: China. It was hard for me to walk away. Everest was where I made the majority of my pay for the year. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I chose to go and be silenced by China. Maybe after this, someone, somewhere will start to pay more attention, and have the power to impact change.”
DARK SIDE OF THE TORCH
1936 BERLIN. Adolph Hitler conceived the idea of running a torch from Greece to the Olympic Stadium to create a mysterious and intimidating aura surrounding his Nazi Regime. His propaganda team also invented the five interlocking rings symbol.
1956 MELBOURNE. Nine Australian students, protesting the torch’s Nazi origins, successfully presented a fake torch made of a chair leg and a burning pair of underpants to the mayor of Sydney.
2008 BEIJING. Pro-Tibet demonstrations in London, Paris and San Francisco disrupted the intended torch route and even caused the torch to be extinguished at times.
HOW CHINA IS REPRESSING TIBET
POLITICAL: In 1950 China sent 40,000 troops into Tibet in an act of unprovoked aggression. In 1959, the Tibetans revolted and over 87,000 were killed. Some 1.2 million Tibetans have been killed by the Chinese since 1950, according to the Free Tibet Campaign. Each year around 2,500 Tibetans cross the Himalaya as refugees.
AGRICULTURAL: Forced agricultural modernizations led to extensive crop failures and Tibet’s first recorded famine (1960 to 1962), in which 340,000 Tibetans died. CULTURAL: Chinese has now replaced Tibetan as the official language. Since 1994, the Chinese have used a distorted, pro-Chinese history program to educate young Tibetans.
ENVIRONMENTAL: Sources estimate that half of Tibet’s natural forests have been logged since the Chinese occupation. China admits to dumping nuclear waste on the Tibetan plateau near its largest lake, Lake Kokonor. The Indian government reports three nuclear missile sites on Tibetan territory.
RELIGIOUS: China continues to attempt to discredit Tibet’s secular and religious leader in exile, The Dalai Lama.