Changing China

Giant on the move

Nick, the torch and Everest – prologue

April 30, 2008

We’re here, where’s the torch?

We arrived. For a long time it looked like we wouldn’t, but on Monday morning, four days after leaving Beijing, 11 foreign journalists arrived at the media centre on the lower slopes of Mount Everest to report on the torch relay.

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It brought to an end two of weeks of uncertainty that started when a briefing was cancelled and we heard nothing more until we were summoned to the Beijing Olympic media centre on the morning of our scheduled departure. The party of foreign media, at this stage 20-strong, was informed that bad weather had caused a delay to our journey and the departure ceremony for the climb team and torch had been cancelled.

Little did we know, although we might have guessed, that the Tibet Autonomous Region did not want foreign journalists poking around the still sensitive sores of the March riots. It took pressure from the central government, we have now learned, for them to finally allow us to go.

But the lost days meant we would be going from 54 metres above sea level in Beijing to Everest Base Camp (5,200m) in just three days – something that rang serious alarm bells with the doctors we consulted. “I would strongly advise against it,” said one British doctor, an expert on high altitude sickness who reached the summit of Everest last year. “You’re putting yourself in a position where you could get something that could kill you.”

There followed three days of back and forth with deadlines missed and pushed back, meetings in cafes, stand-offs, stand-downs, demands for money, demands for information and a BOCOG employee being chased down the street by reporters trying to stuff wads of cash into his hands.

Chinese security personnel watch from their observation post in front of the peak of Mount Everest, also known as Qomolangma, near Everest Base Camp April 28, 2008. A small group of foreign reporters have been allowed into the region to witness the Olympic torch ascend Everest. REUTERS/David Gray (CHINA)

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