Trouble-plagued Olympic flame aims for the top of Everest, far from the maddened crowd

Mount Everest.

Mount Everest.

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MOUNT Everest is blasted by fierce winds that can reach 280 km/h, filled with tiny chips of ice that trail behind its peak in a distinctive plume.

Early next month, Chinese mountaineers will carry the Olympic torch to the top of the snow-encrusted Himalayan mountain as part of its 97-day domestic odyssey.

But unlike recent torch relays in London, Paris and San Francisco, no one will be there to see it, or protest about it because access to the world's highest peak has been barred.

For the first time, the Nepalese Government has banned climbers from its side of Everest between May 1 and 10 while the torch makes its ascent.

It has also banned climbers from carrying material, including banners and pamphlets, that may harm the relationship between Nepal and China.

Everest permits issued to mountaineers state that teams must lock up their electronic equipment at the mountain's base camp and rely on government equipment until May 10, when the flame has returned from the summit.

In addition, mountaineers must allow "liaison officers" to search and seize anything they consider suspicious.

China has already announced it will block access to the Tibetan side of the mountain until May 10.

Greg Mortimer, who climbed Everest with Tim McCartney-Snape, becoming the first Australians to conquer it, said the new rules were a deliberate attempt to clamp down on dissent that could mar the Games.

"It shows there is serious concern on behalf of the Chinese and it's not surprising that Nepal would want to respond," Mortimer said. "They're sandwiched between two of the biggest populations in the world."

He said climbers should have the right to express their feelings on Tibet, but do so without offending the Nepalese.

"The top of Everest is a very, very big podium and they can express their views on Tibet in the media when they come home or before they leave," he said.

Mortimer, a member of the Australian Tibetan Council since the early 1980s, said

the controls would force climbers to be "creative" in how they expressed their views.

The restrictions on climbers' communications equipment have prompted concerns about safety, an issue close to the heart of Australian mountaineer Lincoln Hall.

Hall made headlines around the world in 2006 when he was left for dead on Everest after suffering from debilitating altitude sickness. Twelve hours later he was found alive at 8700 metres, sitting crosslegged with his down suit unzipped to the waist, wearing no hat, gloves or sleeping bag

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