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Published: June/July 2008Special Report: Everest
Everest

Everest Gets Torched

How the Olympics ruined a peaceful spring at the top of the world.

Text by Ed Douglas
Photo Illustration by Jonathan Barkat

For all the controversy surrounding the Olympic torch's journey to Beijing this spring, perhaps the greatest relay-related hullabaloo happened in relative obscurity. It all started when the host country released plans to send the torch to the summit of Mount Everest as a high-altitude coup de théâtre for the Summer Games. The all-Chinese climbing team, whose identities were a closely guarded secret, would follow a newly expanded $21 million highway to Base Camp in Tibet, then begin their ascent. To further pave the way, on March 10 the China Tibet Mountaineering Association (CTMA) announced that it would close the peak to foreign expeditions, ending almost three decades of unfettered access to the north side of Everest and wiping out a climbing industry worth millions.

In most years, the CTMA ban would surely have set off a firestorm of protests. But coincidentally, on the day of the announcement, another confrontation stole the spotlight when, to commemorate the 1959 uprising against China, monks in Lhasa staged a peaceful protest that quickly turned violent. As Chinese troops flooded the region to restore order, Tibet's 50-year struggle for independence overshadowed a season-long climbing ban.

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