China plans Mount Everest restrictions to stop 'abuse' of peak

A Chinese official says restrictions will be imposed next year on the number of climbers allowed on Mount Everest as concern grows about damage to the Himalayan environment.

China is planning a major cleanup operation on Mount Everest next year, and may limit the number of climbers and other visitors to the Tibetan side of the mountain, Chinese media reports said Monday.

The world’s highest mountain is on the border between Nepal and China, and environmentalists have been calling for restrictions on the soaring number of expeditions to the 8,848-metre summit.

Zhang Yongze, the environmental protection chief in the Tibetan regional government, said China would start closing down access to the mountain in the second half of 2009, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

"Our target is to keep even more people from abusing Mount Everest."

China has already enacted some restrictions, including stopping vehicles from driving directly to the base camp at 5,180 metres, Zhang said.

That was necessary to preserve the fragile Himalayan environment and melting Rongbuk glacier at the base of Everest, which has retreated 150 metres in the past decade, Zhang said.

Scientists blame the loss of glaciers on a combination of climate change and pressure from the thousands of visitors who gather at the Everest base camp every year in the spring and fall, when weather conditions are clear enough to attempt climbing the mountain.

This year, nearly 300 people have stood on top of Everest, climbing from both the Nepali and Tibetan sides and shattering a record set last year.

Dead bodies litter mountainsides

Many were members of commercial expeditions and paid up to $60,000 or more to reach the place known as "the roof of the world."

The base camps and climbing routes on all sides of the mountain are littered with detritus from expeditions and hundreds of dead bodies of those killed while climbing. The harsh and rugged conditions make it all but impossible for survivors to take bodies away.

There was also renewed interest in Mount Everest this year because Chinese and Tibetan climbers took an Olympic torch to the summit last month as part of celebrations for the Summer Beijing Olympics.

Chinese authorities enraged climbers earlier this year by convincing Nepal's government to join in completely shutting down the mountain for several days during peak climbing season to prevent any possible disruption to the Everest leg of the torch relay.

Zhang described the Olympic expedition as a model of environmental responsibility, saying climbers, support crews and media had carted away large amounts of garbage, and relied on a pair of "environmental toilets" to prevent leaving waste on the mountain.


With files from the Associated Press