Page last updated at 19:41 GMT, Thursday, 24 April 2008 20:41 UK

Everest Olympic torch diary

As the Olympic torch makes its way around the world before arriving in Beijing for the games in August, the BBC's Jonah Fisher joins it for the high point of its trip - on Mount Everest.

In the first of his diary instalments, he finds himself waiting in Beijing as the Chinese authorities make last-minute changes to the itinerary of the media.

Torch being lit in Australia
Swimmer Ian Thorpe at the end of the Australian leg of the torch relay
It is hard to imagine how climbing Mount Everest could be regarded as a break.

But after being targeted by demonstrators on its route around the world, the Olympic torch may, despite the thin air, breathe a little easier when it reaches the icy slopes of the world's highest mountain sometime next week.

Along with my colleague Peter Emmerson, I am due to fly into Tibet as part of an official Olympic media group to report on the efforts of torch-carrying Chinese mountaineers.

Because of bad weather on Mt Qomolangma we have decided that it is best for your safety to stay here in Beijing until the climb begins
Shao Shiwei

Unfortunately so far we have been told next to nothing about the climb itself.

No start date, no word on who is taking part, or even how many climbers there are.

So we have been trying to wait patiently in Beijing, but as we make our final preparations there has been no shortage of drama behind the scenes.

Plans changed

Having been invited months ago, events came to a head this week at the Olympic Media Centre in Beijing.

The 20 foreign journalists had just been told that the trip was being indefinitely delayed and were summoned to a meeting to be told why.

With the torch encountering protests around the world, and the riots in Lhasa just over a month old, a few theories were being thrown around.

But Shao Shiwei the deputy spokesman of the Olympic Organising Committee dismissed them all.

Mount Everest (file photo)
China plans to take a special high-altitude torch up Mount Everest

"Because of bad weather on Mt Qomolangma [the named Chinese use for Everest] we have decided that it is best for your safety to stay here in Beijing until the climb begins," he said.

It was bad news.

Plans for us to slowly acclimatise to the dangerously thin air on Everest had been shelved, and we would now depart Beijing only when the Chinese mountaineers had left base camp to attempt the summit.

There would also now be no coverage of the arrival of the torch on the mountain, a potential flashpoint for pro-Tibetan demonstrators.

Collective protest

Our three-week trip to Tibet had suddenly been condensed into one.

Collectively we protested that by being raced from sea level to over 5,000 metres in just two days, our health was being put at risk.

Medical advice is that this sort of rapid rise would put many of us in danger of severe altitude sickness.

After a 24-hour stand off, the trip was tweaked.

The journalists were given an extra day to acclimatise in Tibet but also issued with an ultimatum.

We were told to pay for our air tickets before 10 the next morning or miss out entirely.

The world's three main news agencies decided they wanted further clarification and consultations before going ahead, and missed the deadline.

They then discovered that the Chinese were deadly serious and refused to take them back.

Whether conspiracy or cock-up, it means that significantly fewer journalists will be travelling into Tibet.

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