Chinese state media announced on Monday that a team of 21 Tibetan climbers will scale Everest in order to set up a separation line between the Chinese and Nepali sides of the summit. The line is meant to prevent climbers from interacting on the tiny mountaintop, the country’s Xinhua News Agency reports.
It’s unclear how China would enforce a separation line at the peak, which is a small mound of snow with space for about six climbers and guides. The peak is above the so-called “death zone” where many have died due to a lack of oxygen, and is likely too inhospitable for anyone to stand guard for any length of time.
Ang Tshering Sherpa, a veteran mountaineering expert, told The Associated Press that it’s impossible to draw a line at the mountain’s peak. He also pointed out that someone with COVID-19 — which is a respiratory illness — would never make it up the world’s tallest mountain.
“The idea that anyone with coronavirus could even reach the summit is impossible because climbers with any respiratory difficulties will just not be able to reach the altitude,” he said.
He added that climbers from each side take completely separate routes up the mountain, and the only point where they would meet is the summit. Even then, climbers are typically wearing heavy gear and face coverings.
Nepal is currently grappling with a major COVID-19 outbreak that is infecting roughly 9,000 people per day. The virus has also reportedly been circulating among the tourists and guides at Nepal’s Everest base camp since last month, but officials have refused to speak about it.
Nepal officials have resisted calls to cancel the spring climbing season at Mount Everest, which brings in tourist dollars from around the world. Nepal has authorized 408 foreigners to climb the mountain this year.
China claims to have largely crushed the coronavirus within its borders. Nevertheless, the Chinese-held Tibetan side of the mountain remains closed to foreign climbers, and tourists have been barred from visiting the Tibetan base camp.
—With files from The Associated Press and Reuters