China has sent a team of scientists to Everest to conduct a survey and clear rubbish from its slopes while the mountain is closed to commercial climbing.

With Everest all but deserted after China and Nepal cancelled the spring climbing season in March to prevent coronavirus spreading among climbers, the team will be one of only two scaling the 8,848-metre summit. Both teams are Chinese and in contrast to last year’s chaotic spring season, marred by 11 deaths amid chronic overcrowding, they will have the mountain to themselves.

China’s network of Beidou satellites, a rival to America’s Global Positioning System, will be used to determine the precise height of the mountain. Data on weather, wind speed and snowfall will also be gathered to “facilitate glacier monitoring and ecological protection”, Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, has reported.

In contrast to last year’s chaotic spring season, the Chinese teams will have the mountain to themselves.

The survey team will also remove vast quantities of litter from the north face as they work, part of a joint operation by China and Nepal to clean up the world’s highest rubbish dump.

Everest’s once-pristine slopes have been ruined by decades of commercial climbing. The main campsites on the north and south faces are littered with abandoned tents, empty oxygen bottles and piles of frozen excrement. China is also believed to have removed the bodies of several dead climbers over recent years.

The scientists’ company on the mountain will be Chinese mountaineers who were given special clearance to attempt the climb last month.

This is the first time since 1960, when the northern route of Everest was conquered for the first time, that Chinese climbers have been the only ones there. In line with the 60th anniversary of that triumph, Beijing has been increasing its footprint on the mountain, installing 5G telecom masts last month.