Everest followers may have heard that the Chinese government notified all North side expeditions on March 10th that due to "environmental concerns and over crowding" that they are asking teams not arrive until May 10th. There were no further public statements.
Other reports say they asked the Nepalese to close the South side. MountEverest.net publicly broke the origional story yesterday.
Obviously this decision is linked with the Chinese project to carry the Olympic Torch to the summit as part of the Games in Beijing later this year. They did a successful practice climb in 2007 that included hundreds of Chinese soldiers at Base Camp, relocation of the Tibetans selling goods to climbers and occupying large areas of the High Camps for their climbers.
One major incident that may have precipitated this decision was when a small group of protesters held a rally at Base Camp for the Free Tibet Movement. They were arrested and deported.
To summarize the obvious problem with this decision - all teams, including ours, are preparing to leave for the Himalayas within the next two weeks. Tons of equipment has already been sent, monies exchanged, staff and support hired. The normal schedule calls for establishing and stocking camps up to 8000m before the summit bid. This normally takes about 5 weeks or approximately May 10th!
In 2007, the Himex Sherpas summited on April 30 from the north - the earliest in the history of Everest. But it still took them a few weeks to establish ropes and camps before their summit. The latest summits in 2007 were on June15 but the Altitude Everest team had been on Everest since early May. They were lucky with the weather since the annual monsoons start each year around June 1st. So starting on May 10th almost eliminates any chance of a summit.
Hopefully a compromise can be reached that allows the Chinese to summit with the torch while other climbers stay off the summit. It takes about a week to summit and return so the mountain could be closed during this time while still allowing teams to acclimatize before the Chinese attempt and to go for their summit after the torch summits. This seems like a win-win.
Stay tuned, this climb is shaping up to be more than I ever thought it would be ... and I am not sure if that is good or bad!