Mountaineering flourishes in China’s Tibet autonomous region

By Li Yang, People’s Daily

At 4:20 a.m. on May 25, 1960, Wang Fuzhou, Gonpo, and Qu Yinhua, mountaineers with an average age of 24 years old, ascended to the top of Mount Qomolangma from its northern slope, which is considered so high that even birds can’t fly over. It was the first time that Chinese people had reached the top of the world’s highest peak, and also the first time that mankind had climbed to the summit of Mount Qomolangma from its northern slope.

“In those years, our climbing gear was quite rudimentary. Since we didn’t have metal ladder, we built a human ladder to climb the mountain. We thought we must reach the summit, even if only one of us could do it,” said the Tibetan climber Gonpo, who can still vividly recall the feat of great daring.

“The first thing we did after reaching the top of the mountain was to erect our national flag. We wantedto show the world that Chinese people can do it,”Gonpo added.

On Oct. 1, 1960, Tibet mountaineering camp, which later became the China Tibet Mountaineering Team, was established, with Gonpo and his fellow teammates who took part in the ascent of Mount Qomolangma in 1960 forming the backbone of the camp.

After the first successful ascent of the world’s tallest mountain in 1960, generations of Tibetan mountaineers have continued to create new world records for mountaineering: more than 300 people have scaled Mount Qomolangma; over 460 people have reached the tops of mountains that are more than 8,000 meters in height; three people have conquered all the world’s 14 peaks above the altitude of 8,000 meters; and two members of the China Tibet Mountaineering Team have accomplished the magnificent feat of reaching the summits of the highest mountains on each of the world’s seven continents and trekking to the South and North Poles.

Tourists enjoy spectacular scenery at the foot of Mount Qomolangma, August 26, 2020. (Photo by Peng Huan/People’s Daily Online)

In 2020, when the 60th anniversaryof the China Tibet Mountaineering Team was marked, a Chinese survey team reached the summit of Mount Qomolangma and remeasuredthe height of the peak, which is 8,848.86 meters. At the same time, the team set a new record for the longest stay on the top of the peak by Chinese people.

“Mountaineers from the China Tibet Mountaineering Team have played a part in all the important activities and major events involving the sport of mountain climbing, including pushing the limits of mountaineering, remeasuring the height of Mount Qomolangma, and the Olympic torch relay at the summit of the peak,” said Sonam, head of the China Tibet Mountaineering Team.

The team has also carried out, on behalf of China, joint mountaineering activities with many countries and regions, making mountaineering a major leverage to build China into a country strong on sports and an important bridge for exchanges between China and foreign countries, according to Sonam.

As times change, the sport of mountain climbing has also become increasingly rich in content, with rock climbing, ski mountaineering and other events deriving from itgradually.

Nevertheless, the spirit of being fearless of danger and difficulty, tenacity, solidarity and cooperation, and scaling new heights has been carried forward by mountaineers in Tibet from generation to generation.

“In addition to maintaining our strengths in mountaineering expedition, we also need to strive for better performance in competitions,” said NgawangTashi, deputy head of the China Tibet Mountaineering Team.

After Beijing and its neighboring city Zhangjiakou in north China’s Hebei province won the bid to host the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, the China Tibet Mountaineering Team took the preparations for the sports event and China’s vision of involving 300 million people in winter sports as an opportunity to boost the development of ice and snow sports in Tibet, and set up the first skiing training team of the region.

The team selected outstanding athletes, regardless of their professional backgrounds, for cross-country skiing, snowboarding, and ski mountaineering.

“Within less than four to five years, these young athletes who used to be completely new to skiing have gradually developed enthusiasm for these skiing events,” said NgawangTashi.

What’s particularly exciting was that TseringDradul and YongqingLhamo finally qualified for Beijing 2022 and became the first Tibetan athletes to compete at Winter Olympics, NgawangTashi added.

Members of the China Tibet Mountaineering Teampose for a group photo after reaching the summit of Mount Qomolangma in 1999. (Photo/Courtesy of sports bureau of Tibet autonomous region)

These brilliant achievements couldn’t have been made without the mountaineering team’s talent cultivation system that has matured considerably over the past years.

The mountaineering guide school located in the northern suburbs of Lhasa, capital of Tibet, is the only mountaineering school in China and the second one of its kind in the world. Students there are mainly teenagers of the Tibetan ethnic group who are interested in skiing and mountaineering. They are provided with systematic and professional training in the school.

So far, the school has cultivated more than 300 mountaineering professionals including mountain guides, continuously supplying reserve forces to the China Tibet Mountaineering Team and the industry of high-altitude mountaineering.

In an effort to bring mountaineering closer to the public, the China Tibet Mountaineering Team has actively promoted the Tibet mountaineering conference, which has been held for 20 consecutive sessions and attracted many mountaineering enthusiasts to climbing snow-capped mountains in Tibet.

The event includes not only splendid skiing and mountaineering competitions, but mountaineering training, ice and snow sports-themed cultural exhibition, and other activities, playing an important role in boosting the integrated development of mountaineering, sports industry and tourism sector.

Based on its rich reserve of professional mountaineers, the China Tibet Mountaineering Team has actively engaged in mountain rescue, and taken part in more than 30 major rescue tasks, including the evacuation of mountaineers after a devastating earthquake hit Nepal in 2015. In the climbing season every year, the mountaineering team clears mountain areas of household waste and disposes of it.

“We’ve got to protect the lofty mountains, blue skies, and white clouds of the snow-covered Qinghai-Tibet Plateau,”Sonam noted.

Looking forward, the China Tibet Mountaineering Team is making active efforts to adapt to changes and make progress in key priorities of its work, including mountaineering industrialization, regular environmental protection activities in mountains, and scientific development of mountain rescue.

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