China closes Tibetan route to Mount Everest amid clean-up drive

Everest clean up

Feb 17: China has closed the Tibetan entrance to Mount Everest ‘for an indefinite period’ amid a clean-up drive owing to growing piles of garbage left on the world’s tallest mountain.

Chinese officials said although the entrance is closed, tourists can still visit the Rongpo monastery area at 16,400 feet above sea level. Only those with climber permits, however, will be allowed to go to the base camp about 600 feet higher, and beyond.

“The key area of the reserve will be closed for tourism for an indefinite period, mainly for ecological conservation,” tourism official Tang Wu said.

Climbers and tourists leaving trash (camp-equipment, plastic bottles and human faeces) behind on the mountain has long been a problem. In 2014, Nepal ordered climbers and tourists going to the mountain must return with an extra 18 pounds of garbage.

The decision will drastically reduce the number of visitors on the Tibetan side as only 300 people with climbing passes will be allowed past a monastery just below the 5,200m camp.

However, visitors to Nepal’s southern route has increased dramatically in recent decades, from 3,500 in 1973 to a record 45,000 in 2017, according to Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation of Nepal.

More than 40,000 people tripped to China’s base camp in 2015, according to the last official figures, while some 20,000 have attempted the 8,848m-summit from there in the past eight years.

In January, Beijing cut the number of climbing passes by a third.

Sherpas collected nine-tons of waste from the icy slopes in 2017 and China has formed a 200-strong task-force to pick up remaining debris. Some frozen bodies have been left for years.

The cleanup of the mountainside will also include removing bodies of dead climbers from prior climbs located higher than 26,200 feet, known as death zone.

Chinese officials have also followed Nepal’s lead in asking climbers to return with litter once they come down, or pay a fine.

The director of the Chinese Mountaineering Association, Ci Luo, said that from now on climbers will “be required to carry out all their waste with them.”

“Prices have gone up on the Chinese side and they are now asking for a deposit for clearing litter,” said Tim Mosedale, a British mountain guide who’s climbed Everest six times. “It seems to be a bit of classic muscle-flexing to show who is boss.

“There is always some suspense with the Chinese authorities about whether the mountain will be open and whether an operator will get a permit and what the rules will be.”

The pro-environment policies come after UNESCO warned that the dramatic growth in adventure tourism has imperiled Mount Everest’s fragile ecosystem and local cultural traditions.