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Mission: Nepal 2008

Torch Update

Chinese claim summit of Everest with torch

EVEREST BASE CAMP, Tibet (May 7, 2008) — The Olympic flame has reached the summit of Mount Everest. Live television footage showed a Chinese mountaineering team holding up a specially designed torch along with Chinese and Olympic flags on the top of the world's tallest mountain, according to media reports.

The 19-member team broke camp about four hours before dawn Thursday and reached the 29,035-foot peak by mid-morning. The climbing teams accompanying the flame (ignited earlier from the main Olympic flame that is now coursing across China en route to host city Beijing) reached the top of Everest nearly two hours ahead of schedule.

Harsh weather had forced a delay in the climb for several days.

Two groups climbed to the summit: a 12-person team of torchbearers and a supplemental seven-person pickup team, officials said. The team of about 50 includes 31 climbers along with coaches, advisers and other support staff members.

The flame is burning in a lantern designed to protect it from low-oxygen conditions of the high altitude. The main Olympic flame began its three-month trek through China Sunday following a global torch relay.

Secrecy kept journalists at the Base Camp from knowing when the summit attempt might begin. Tight security surrounds the mountain to prevent any anti-Chinese and pro-Tibet protests.

By successfully carrying the flame to the highest point in the world, China completed one of the promises it made to stage the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.

Posted 9:35 p.m. ET May 7, 2008

Mount Everest Closed

Both sides of world's tallest mountain shut down until after May 10

KATHMANDU (March 13, 2008) — Nepal has effectively closed Mount Everest to climbers until after May 10 to allow the Olympic flame to be carried to the top without being troubled by Tibetan protesters, a senior minister said on March 14.

The move came as pro-independence protests spread within Tibet. It was made at the urging of China, Pritivi Subba Gurung, the tourism minister, told Reuters news service. Beijing will host the Olympic Games in Beijing beginning Aug. 8.

“Climbers will be allowed to go up to the Sagarmatha base camp but will not be permitted to move above until May 10,” Gurung said. (Sagarmatha is the Nepali name for Everest.)

“This is to prevent some people who could infiltrate and cause trouble during the time when they take the torch to the top.”

On March 13, it was announced in Beijing that China is denying mountaineers permission to climb its side of Everest this spring. The Associated Press called it a move that reflects concerns by the communist government that Tibet activists may try to disrupt its plans to carry the Olympic torch up the world's tallest peak.

The Everest restrictions were contained in a letter the government's mountaineering association sent to expedition companies. It came as China's much criticized rule of Tibet, long a hot-button issue, was heating up.

China's Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi, testily chastised critics trying to leverage the Olympics to draw attention to human rights violations and other issues. Those who “want to tarnish the image of China,” Yang said in a rare televised news conference, “they will never get their way.”

With less than five months to go to the Olympic Games — and three weeks before the Olympic flame was to arrive in Beijing — events were taking on a harder political tone, and the criticism put the government on the defensive at a time it hoped to be basking in praise.

“They see this as somewhat hostile and mainly because it's pressure to change, and that provokes a hostile reaction from them,” said Susan Brownell, an American expert on China sports scene who is spending a year at Beijing Sports University.

Annexed by Chinese troops 58 years ago, but with a resilient exile community led by the Nobel Peace Prize laureate the Dalai Lama, Tibet has been a concern for Beijing Olympic security planners and crisis managers for months. In the past year, Tibet activists have unfurled banners at Everest Base Camp and the Great Wall, calling for Tibet's independence.

Bringing the Olympic flame to the summit of Everest is shaping up to be one of the grandest — and most politicized — feats of the already politicized Beijing games.

The 29,035-foot peak is battered by harsh weather and wreathed in thin oxygen, presenting a physical and technical challenge to the torch crews. The mountain also straddles the political border between Chinese-controlled Tibet and Nepal, home to Tibetan exiles and activists.

Activist groups have criticized the Everest run as an attempt by Beijing to lend legitimacy to Chinese rule. “Beijing is using the Olympics torch ceremony, which should stand for human freedoms and dignity, to bolster its territorial claim over Tibet,” John Ackerly, president of the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government has said that the Everest relay would be a show of international sportsmanship, as well as a point of national pride.

“The torch relay to Mount Everest is a highlight of the whole relay, and it also represents the idea of green Olympics, high-tech Olympics and people's Olympics,” Beijing Vice Mayor Liu Jingming told reporters in Beijing. He promised a successful ascent even if the weather was bad, saying a test-run went well last year.

Beijing has been secretive about the Everest leg of the symbol-freighted, popular Olympic relay. The Everest run is a side spur of the main event, a second torch that will be carried up the mountain while the relay is in Southeast Asia or elsewhere in China.

Beijing Olympic organizers have not released an exact date of the ascent, but preparations point to late April or early May.

The north side of Everest, which is in Chinese territory, contains some of the most difficult routes to the summit. The south side, through Nepal, is the most popular way to the top. China had tried to pressure Nepal to close the south side as well, according to Web site everest.net. This apparently has succeeded.

A letter sent to expedition companies by the government's China Tibet Mountaineering Association, which issues permits for Everest, said climbs of Everest and Cho Oyu should be postponed until after May 10.

The letter, which was posted on a foreign mountaineering Web site MountEverest.net and verified by the association, cites “heavy climbing activities” as among the reasons,but does not mention the torch.

Zhang Mingxing, general secretary of the association, said his group would still welcome several hundred climbers, but suggested that most would be in the August-to-October climbing season. Besides, he said, “the climate in Tibet this year is a bit unusual. It is still snowing here and the wind is pretty big, so it is better to postpone the climbing.”

Mountaineering groups, incensed by the decision, said they had been told that the relay was the main reason for the postponements.

Despite the torch controversy, a record number of climbing teams moved into Base Camp on the Nepal side of Everest this season.

Posted March 13, 2008; updated May 3, 2008

Protests

A U.S. citizen holding a “Free Tibet” banner was turned back from the slopes of Mount Everest on April 21, a Nepalese army officer said. The incident comes as authorities in Nepal tighten security on Mount Everest in advance of the scheduled arrival of the Olympic torch in early May.

Nepal strictly controls anti-Chinese activity on its soil and has deployed troops on the world's highest peak. Nepal has about 25 security personnel on the mountain, including 15 soldiers trained in mountain warfare, the army officer said. Security forces on the mountain have permission to shoot mountaineers engaged in anti-Chinese activities, according to a Home Ministry official.

An international torch relay has been dogged by pro-Tibet protesters in several cities around the world, including an incident in France in which the torch was doused. That April 7 controversy sparked anti-France demonstrations in China's major cities on April 19 and 20. Demonstrators also protested as the torch relay went through San Francisco, Calif. and London, England. Stops in Argentina, Tanzania, Oman, and Thailand were relatively trouble-free. The Olympic flame arrived in Japan on Friday, April 25 after a relatively incident-free run in Indonesia and a shortened run through Australia.

Perspective

It says in Proverbs 13:27, “A poor man's field may produce abundant food, but injustice sweeps it away.” We know that the world is a cruel place, lorded over by the prince of darkness. We also know that the Victory has been won. Christ is risen!
 
We need to keep this perspective in the face of all the unfairness.
 
Tibet is in turmoil, protesters again expressing displeasure with Chinese rule. China, trying unsuccessfully to put a good face on its pitiful human rights record (the U.S. State Department still rates it among the world's biggest abusers), strong-armed little neighbor Nepal to join it in closing Mount Everest to climbers. For what? So they can carry the Olympic torch to the summit without incident.
 
Climbing For Christ member Bud Allen of Georgia was planning to attempt an Everest ascent. Now that is up in the thin air.
 
“It is looking unlikely that I will be on Everest this year,” Bud said. “At this point we have been told that the south side will be closed until after May 10. There are negotiations (and guide services making false claims that it is a done deal) underway to allow the climbers on Everest until May 1 then down until May 10. That could be an option, but I'm worried about fixing the mountain, acclimatization, and the rules getting changed after we get there. That May 10 date is based on the Chinese getting to the top before the 10th. If weather holds them up we could completely lose our weather window.
 
“For me it may boil down to whether I am willing to accept the extra stress that all this drama is sure to bring to Base Camp.”

In the end, Allen decided not to go. He will try again next year. Allen was disappointed. He said the trip “seemed to be coming together. I had even found a Christian Sherpa to accompany me to the summit. It is hard to accept it falling apart now.”
 
But he also has perspective:
 
“At the same time my problems are insignificant compared to the financial devastation this is going to cause the people in the Khumbu and the terrible situation for the Tibetans,” Allen said.
 
This China-influenced closing could cost dirt-poor Nepal millions of dollars in tourist revenue. Our Mission: Nepal team is scheduled to reach Everest Base Camp around May 1-4.

— Gary Fallesen
March 18, 2008

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