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Torch bearers to take up final leg of Everest ascent

Chinese mountaineers carrying the Olympic torch made it to the 6,500-meter high advanced base camp on the Chinese side of Everest. The date of the final ascent will be set according to weather conditions. (Story: C.Moore)

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EVEREST BASE CAMP - Climbers taking a special Olympic torch up Mount Everest were held up at advanced base camp on Thursday, awaiting better weather to reclaim glory at the top of the world after a calamitous round-the-world relay.

 

Anxious to avoid a repeat of the anti-China protests that marred torch's five-continent relay and preserve a moment of national pride ahead of Beijing's August Games, China has kept the logistics and timing of the climb under wraps.

 

Sun Bin, Everest project manager at the organising committee for Games, confirmed, however, that the climbers had reached the advanced base camp on the Chinese side of the mountain at around 6,500 metres (21,300 feet).

 

He added that the wind would have to die down before an attempt was made to scale the final icy slopes up to the 8,848-metre (29,030-foot) Himalayan peak.

 

"Normally there is a three to four day window of good weather in the first week of May," said the former national climbing champion. "We want to try to catch this window to try and summit.

 

"Strong winds are the worst conditions," he added. "Last year, when I was at 7,500 metres the wind was so strong I could not move one step in half an hour. Beyond 8,000 metres, the wind will decide whether you can summit or not."

 

Despite the hope invested in the endeavour, Sun's colleague, Liu Jian, did not think expedition leader Wang Yong Fung would take any chances with his team.

 

"I think he will obey the rules of mountaineering," said Liu, who with Wang and three others became the first Chinese to climb the highest mountain on all seven continents and reach the North and South Poles.

 

The head of the meteorological office said on Wednesday that conditions would not be appropriate to summit until the weekend at the earliest.

 

"IT'S NOT A JOKE"

 

Sun, who said it usually takes four days to summit from 6,500 metres, successfully battled winds and temperatures of -60 degrees Celsius (-76 degrees Fahrenheit) to conquer Everest last year as part of a test run for the attempt with the Olympic flame.

 

His own experience illustrates that the upper reaches of the world's highest mountain are still an extremely hostile environment, with the threat of frostbite particularly acute.

 

"For anyone getting to the top of Everest would be very exciting, but the reality is that it's pretty painful," he said.

 

"I lost the feeling in my feet, I was really worried about it. I just wanted to run down so in the end I just spent about five minutes at the top."

 

Another reminder of how hostile Everest can be is a memorial park at base camp where mounds of rocks and plaques remember climbers who have died. Most of the bodies remain on the slopes.

 

"To climb this mountain, you need to take it seriously. It's not a joke," said Sun, who said he had seen seven corpses above 8,300 metres.

 

Sun, who has spent two years preparing the torch climb, said measures had been taken to alleviate the risks.

 

"The north-east route is the most popular route on the Chinese side and it's very familiar to the climbers," he said. "They will have fixed ropes up the mountain, they will have the best logistic and information support. All the food and equipment will be carried by the sherpas."

 

Sun said the team was likely to summit around dawn.

 

"If we can get the Olympic flame to the top, this would be my happiest time," he said. "I'm praying for good luck for the climbers, for the Olympic torch relay and the Olympic Games, to have a great success."

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