China to open monumental Everest mountaineering center

In a move that could drastically change the future of mountaineering on the world’s highest peak, Chinese officials have announced plans to build a specialized international mountaineering center at the base of Mount Everest’s north route.

Operating out of the Gangkar township on the Tibetan Plateau, the center will bring medical services, a travel agency and a helicopter rescue base to the less popular of Everest’s two routes, according to “China Daily,” improving accessibility and safety while bringing in tourism money to one of China’s most economically isolated regions.

The north side of Mount Everest, shot from Base Camp on the Tibet side. Photo courtesy of Wikicommons.
The north side of Mount Everest, shot from Base Camp on the Tibet side. Photo: Courtesy of Wikicommons
The project is estimated to cost the Chinese government more than $14.7 million, with construction starting this year and a proposed end date of 2019.

To learn more about the center and what it means for Everest climbing moving forward, we talked to Adrian Ballinger, a Lake Tahoe, California-based international climbing guide and the owner of Alpenglow Expeditions, which has helped pioneer the guiding push along Everest’s north route.

Here’s what he had to say about the monumental announcement.

What does this announcement mean for the mountaineering community and prospective Everest climbers?
Above and beyond anything else will be helicopter rescue. Rescue services for Alpenglow teams are already quite good on the north side of Everest. But high-altitude-capable helicopters with experienced pilots and a local base will speed up the initial phase of the rescue, which is a real benefit.

The center could also potentially lead to better management of Mount Everest’s environment and resources. Popular mountains around the world need regulation and management.

Unfortunately, the south side of Everest is an example of what can happen when more climbers come to the mountain each year and regulation does not keep up.

In contrast, Denali and Aconcagua are examples of mountains with strong regulation and management in line with popularity. China and Tibet are anticipating increased popularity, and we hope this center continues their trend of improvement for Everest and climbers’ experience on the mountain.

Who is organizing the efforts to construct the center?
I assume the Chinese government, along with the CTMA [Chinese Tibetan Mountaineering Association]. China has been investing heavily in tourism in Tibet in general, and climbing is one small part of Tibetan tourism.

There have been problems concerning the amount of climbers on Everest in past years. Will this new center help that problem or hurt it?
I believe this center is an example of China trying to get ahead of the potential problems associated with more climbers. As the north side gets more popular, more resource management along with effective rescue services are essential.

Effective government management is essentially nonexistent on the south side, and this is why overcrowding, inexperienced climbers and unethical guide companies are creating havoc.

On the north side, China and Tibet are already taking some good steps. Two examples of what they are already doing: removing trash from the lower mountain and putting in safe and smart fixed ropes to reduce traffic jams and encourage safe climbs.

What has the dialogue been like between climbers, local government, state government and the locals?
Every season we climb in Tibet, we spend time with the CTMA and discuss issues on Tibetan mountains as compared to the rest of the world, and to Nepal specifically. They have shown excellent communication the past few years.

One of the best examples of this was during the 2015 earthquake. The CTMA hosted a series of meetings in Base Camp to discuss options with expedition leaders.

Ultimately, when they made the decision to close the mountains, they allocated significant resources to making our exit from Tibet easy, they immediately offered permit extensions to climbers and they did not waffle on their decision.

How will this center help the community it is based in?
It will provide increased tourism, better resource management [and] education opportunities for Tibetans in both climbing and tourism. Helicopter rescue services around the world also generally benefit local populations as well as foreign climbers and trekkers.

I certainly expect that to be true in Tibet as well.

You lead client groups from the China side. What will your interaction with the center look like?
Hopefully the center becomes an integral part of our rescue system, and also aids in our goal of keeping the mountain pristine and as safe as possible.

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