BEIJING (AP) — China plans to build a highway on the side of Mount Everest to ease the Olympic torch's journey to the peak of the world's tallest mountain before the 2008 Beijing Games, state press reported yesterday.
Construction of the road, budgeted at $19.7 million, would turn a 67-mile rough path from the foot of the mountain to a base camp at 17,060 feet "into a blacktop highway fenced by undulating guardrails," the Xinhua News Agency said.
Xinhua said construction, scheduled to start next week, would take about four months. The new highway would become a major route for tourists and mountaineers.
An official from the secretariat of the Tibetan government, who declined to give his name, confirmed the project was planned, but refused to give any details. Tibet and Nepal are the most commonly used routes up the mountain.
In April, organizers for the Beijing Summer Olympics announced ambitious plans for the longest torch relay in Olympic history — an 85,000-mile, 130-day route that would cross five continents and reach the 29,035-foot summit of Everest.
Taking the Olympic torch to the mountain, seen by some as a way for Beijing to underscore its claims to Tibet, is expected to be one of the relay's highlights.
China says it has ruled Tibet for centuries, although many Tibetans say their homeland was essentially an independent state for most of that time. Chinese communist troops occupied Tibet in 1951, and Beijing continues to rule the region with a heavy hand.
Ed Viesturs, one of the most accomplished American climbers, said he thought a paved road might make access to base camp easier for tour groups, but he did not think it would affect climbers significantly.