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Tibet gears up for new climbing season

Updated: 2013-09-17 01:54
By WANG HUAZHONG in Lhasa ( China Daily)

The Tibet autonomous region is bracing itself for the start of the fall climbing season, with over 250 mostly foreign mountaineers expected to tackle the region's famous mountains, some of which stand more than 8,000 meters high.

Despite a drop in the number of mountaineers visiting Tibet in recent years, the fall climbing season is still a big boost for the local tourism industry, and a key source of revenue for locals.

According to the China Tibet Mountaineering Association, 254 mountaineers from Austria, France, Spain, Nepal, the United States, the United Kingdom, South Korea and other countries are either on their way to Tibet or have already arrived.

Most of them will challenge the world's sixth highest mountain, Mount Cho Oyu, which has an elevation of 8,201 meters, or the world's 14th highest, Mount Shishapangma, which stands at 8,012 meters high.

Zhang Mingxing, director of the association, said on Monday that most of the climbers are foreigners and that more than 200 of them have been preparing for their climbs in Tibet. The rest, he said, are expected to arrive in late September.

He said there are fewer overseas mountaineers visiting Tibet this year because of the global financial downturn. Still, he expects the service industries in the region to receive a boost.

"The autonomous region has been hastening its steps to open up to the outside world and welcome foreigner mountaineers," Zhang said.

Wangchen, a guide and mountaineering assistant to foreign climbers at Xigaze, said he is exited about the upcoming "mountaineering party".

"Domestic climbers plan to ascend only after they have accumulated funds and arranged time. But foreign climbers have been crazy about mountaineering since they were young," Wangchen said. "They have a stronger desire to get closer to the tops of the mountains. They can quit their jobs in order to do it, or even sell their cars and houses to realize their dreams."

Zhang said there has been a drop in the number of foreign climbers in recent years, with fewer groups made up of citizens from the same nation.

"That wasn't the case in the past, when associations organized people exclusively from their own country for the climbs. Nowadays, we have more groups comprised of different nationalities because of people's different economic situations. Many mountaineers have to turn to other countries to find climbing partners."

Foreign mountaineers, Zhang said, outnumber Chinese climbers by a ratio of about 10 to 1. This year, there will be about 20 domestic guests.

Nyima Tsering, head of the Tibet Mountaineering Team and president of the Tibet Mountaineering School, said Tibet is destined to attract more overseas challengers.

"We have rich mountain resources. Many peaks have not been conquered and many summits provide their own unique qualities to satisfy people's different requirements," he said.

There are five mountains in the region that are above 8,000 meters in height, including Qomolangma, also known as Mount Everest in the West, at 8,848 meters. About 70 other mountains are over 7,000 meters and thousands more reach above 6,000 meters.

Many of them are suitable for mountaineering activities in the spring and fall.

Nyima Tsering said people who live near the mountains benefit from the surge in tourists in the fall and spring. Locals have already provided food and accommodation to climbers to help get them accustomed to local conditions this fall.

The Tibet Mountaineering School, which Nyima Tsering established in 1999, is recruiting students to become professional guides, cooks, photographers and assistants for the climbers every year.

"Jobs have been created for the young people. They can get in touch with people from other countries, learn their cultures and broaden their perspectives. As the autonomous region provides better policies and services to overseas mountaineers, our students, who are trained to speak English, will have even better prospects."

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