Mountaineers are breathing a sigh of relief after Nepalese authorities started issuing permits to climb Everest.
It had been feared that, following a clampdown by the Beijing authorities on climbing on the Tibetan side, the Nepalese government would put a freeze on attempts from the south side of the mountain, which straddles the Tibet-Nepal border. China is anxious to quell any protests as it prepares to take the Olympic torch to the top of the world in May.
Everest seen from the Nepal side
Among those who have gained consent to climb the world’s highest peak is Tom Briggs of commercial climbing and trekking company Jagged Globe. He said preliminary permits were issued last week, allowing the trek in to Gorak Shep and beyond. He said Nepalese soldiers will be manning the outpost, and will also be at Base Camp and Camp Two. No-one is supposed to climb beyond Camp Three, at 7,300m (23,950 ft) until after 10 May, which is when the Chinese torch party is expected to summit. Briggs has now received a full permit to climb.
However, Briggs understands that, if the Chinese haven’t reached the summit by this date, teams will still be allowed to proceed up the mountain. Everest attempts have to be made within a short period when weather allows, and any delay could threaten the safety of climbers.
Eccentric explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, will make a second attempt on Everest in May, after an ill fated earlier attempt nearly caused his demise. He is being led by climber Kenton Cool. The expedition aims to raise more than £2m for Marie Curie Cancer Care. Cool and Fiennes set off for Nepal on Wednesday.
The climbing community has been broadly supportive of the Tibetan freedom campaign. Last April, three Americans and a Tibetan-American were arrested at the Tibetan Base Camp when they unfurled a Free Tibet banner.
There has been a growing clamour for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics following the Chinese crackdown on protests in Tibet and southern China provinces. Former Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq, who will carry the torch through London, has come under pressure to back out of the venture. Police are on standby for protests and clashes between free Tibet supporters and Chinese activists in the capital next Sunday.