“China Closes its Everest Base Camp to Tourists” - this is typical of the headlines that have been splashed across global news channels over the past couple of weeks. While it sounds like foreign travellers will be blocked from going to Everest in 2019, this is not what is happening. There are changes at Everest in 2019, but they do not affect the view of the mountain offered to travellers, and these changes are for the better of the mountain.
What was it like visiting Everest before?
The reality is that the actual base camp for climbers has always been restricted to all but those who have an Everest climbing permit. This means the furthest that regular tourists were permitted to overnight previously was at the “tent hotels” - a small seasonal camp of yak wool tents set up by local Tibetans. This camp has traditionally been located about 3km beyond Rongbuk Monastery (chinese, Rongphu Si), near Dza Rongbuk Hermitage, but still several kilometers from the climber's base camp.
These tent hotels hosted travellers for hot tea, provided simple local food, and further offered accommodation to those who wished to overnight. From the tent hotel location, a park bus was provided to carry tourists a further 2km up the valley to the closest viewpoint non-climbers could access.
What has changed at Everest in 2019?
The furthest point that tourists can go in 2019 is Rongbuk Monastery. For many travellers, Rongbuk Monastery offers their favourite view of the mountain. A short walk up the hillside near the monastery offers the iconic view of Everest’s north face with the monastery in the foreground. Most people would say that the panoramic view from this spot is as good as anywhere else in the valley, and some would argue that this location offers the best all round view of the mountain.
The iconic view of Everest's north face from Rongbuk Monastery. You will still be able to access this viewpoint in 2019.
As described above, the further 5km step past Rongbuk Monastery to the “tent hotels” and the viewpoint beyond will not be permitted in 2019. However, the stunning views of Everest from the monastery are at least as good as the views further up the valley.
Why are these changes at Everest being made?
The good news is that the local government is implementing a massive clean up project at Everest. This overdue project began in 2018 with tonnes of waste being hauled away, and will continue in 2019. This massive clean up effort will proceed further up the mountain to even include removing the remains of climbers who have died in the Death Zone.
Everest climbing permits for the 2019 season are being restricted to 300. Eco-friendly toilets are being planned for the future, along with better garbage disposal, and even a seasonal medical clinic to serve tourists. No one would disagree that better management of the natural environment around Everest is in the best interest of everyone.
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