Feb. 15 (UPI) -- China has closed the Tibetan entrance to Mount Everest indefinitely because of mounting garbage that's been left on the world's tallest mountain.
Chinese officials said although the entrance is closed, tourists can still visit the Rongpo monastery area at 16,400 feet above sea level. Only those with climber permits, however, will be allowed to go to the base camp about 600 feet higher, and beyond.
"The key area [of the reserve] will be closed for tourism for an indefinite period, mainly for ecological conservation," tourism official Tang Wu said Wednesday.
News of the decision, which officials reached last month, did not get much attention until this week.
Climbers and tourists leaving trash behind on the mountain has long been a problem. In 2014, officials in Nepal ordered climbers and tourists going to the mountain must return with an extra 18 pounds of garbage, The New York Times reported last year.
China has limited permits to Everest climbers on the Tibetan side to fewer than 300 this year. Visitors to Nepal's southern route has increased dramatically in recent decades, from 3,500 in 1973 to a record 45,000 in 2017, Nepal's Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation said.
Chinese officials said state-run media said cleanup of the mountainside will also include removing bodies of dead climbers from prior climbs located higher than 26,200 feet. That portion of the mountain is called the "death zone" because air is often too thin to breathe.
Chinese officials have also followed Nepal's lead in asking climbers to return with litter once they come down, or pay a fine.
"Prices have gone up on the Chinese side and they are now asking for a deposit for clearing litter," said Tim Mosedale, a British mountain guide who's climbed Everest six times. "It seems to be a bit of classic muscle-flexing to show who is boss.
"There is always some suspense with the Chinese authorities about whether the mountain will be open and whether an operator will get a permit and what the rules will be."