A frustrating wait for the rocket-fuel Olympic torch to mount Everest

May 1st, 2008 - 1:21 pm ICT by admin  

Beijing, May 1 (DPA) Frustration has planted itself squarely in the midst of the 10 foreign journalists who have travelled to Mount Everest to report on the path of the Olympic flame to the highest summit in the world in the coming days. “The disappointment is great,” Arian Reimers, correspondent for Germany’s ARD television, told DPA Wednesday with irritation in her voice.

The group of 30 foreign and Chinese journalists have been camping in metal containers for two days around eight kilometres below the base camp near the Rongbu monastery, and everything is strictly controlled. “We can’t go wherever we want,” Reimers says.

So chaotic and hasty was the organisation of the event that the foreign journalists were brought to their camp at an altitude of 5,040 metres without being allowed to acclimatise.

A Hong Kong television journalist came down with altitude sickness. Although a hobby mountain climber, he was struck by a high fever and low blood oxygen and had to be taken by ambulance to the nearest clinic in Tingri, 102 km away.

Noticeably short-winded, the 35-year-old Reimers however is used to the thin air from cross-country cycling in the Andes at altitudes of 5,000 metres.

“At night I have huge headaches, but they’re gone during the day,” she says.

Despite the rush in which the journalists have to travel to get here, there is nothing to do. The planned farewell ceremony for the flame was simply expunged. “We’re getting the feeling that we’ll not be able to report on anything,” Reimers says.

The reporters agree that the control and the lack of freedom of movement are tied with the fear of Tibetan protests. Exile Tibetans have criticised the Olympic torch relay as a manifestation of Chinese authority over Tibet.

“If anything happens, we’re supposed to miss it,” says Reimers. In addition, the journalists camp is completed secluded. To get here, she says, “you’d have to parachute out of a plane.”

And then there was the case of a US climber who had a Tibetan flag in his pack. He was seized a week ago on the Nepalese side of the Mount Everest and deported Monday.

The foreign journalists weren’t able to see the base camp until Wednesday. They haven’t seen any of the climbers (the multi-day climb is to begin at the earliest on the weekend), but they have seen the prototype of the specially developed hi-tech torch and lanterns for the flame.

Only after arriving at the camp did the journalists experience how windy it is. To compensate for this, the flame is to be carried in several lanterns by climbers in two or three teams to the summit.

Only then will the special torch be lit by a special wick. The torch can only be lit for eight minutes. Therefore there will be several in rucksacks.

Owing to the lack of oxygen and brisk winds on Everest, the flame will burn from solid fuel, the same kind used in missiles - “the first time in the history of the torch relay that missile technology will be introduced”, the Chinese media trumpeted.

It is estimated that well over a million dollars went into the development of the lanterns and the torch, which were tested a year ago on Everest itself. The flame can reach 10 centimetres high and can be seen in even strong sunlight. And not even temperatures of minus 40 degrees Celsius and hurricane-strength winds can put it out.

The torch is to stay on the summit of what the Chinese call “the Mother of the World” for around an hour, and the mountain climbers are to film it.

The television pictures of the once-in-a-lifetime adventure are to be broadcast live around the world.

From their camp at 5040 metres, the foreign journalists can perhaps comment on the pictures, but the dubbing of their contributions will be tricky as they will be handled only by China’s state broadcaster CCTV.

A proposed report by Germany’s ZDF broadcaster Joerg Brase on the torch’s reaching the base camp Wednesday has already been a problem.

“That can happen only with a permit,” the CCTV colleagues said soothingly, adding that the desired permit would arrive “at the earliest tomorrow”.

Brase was revolted. “We simply can’t work this way!” he said.

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