Wearing blue nylon safety harnesses, students scramble up the Tibet Guide School's climbing rock, moving quickly and smoothly from one handhold to the next on the six-story concrete slab.
They are part of an unusual development effort, training poor Tibetan children to work as guides on Mount Everest and other Himalayan peaks that draw thousands of climbers every year.
Tibet is one of China's poorest areas and has some of the world's most challenging summits and spectacular scenery -- assets Communist authorities are trying to harness to develop the region.
"The children of peasants and herdsmen can train here and get a job later," said Zhang Minxing, general secretary of the China Tibet Mountaineering Association, which founded the school in 1999. He said it was the first of its kind in China.
Graduates get jobs at the school's Himalaya Expedition Co., which serves climbers who hope to reach the 29,035-foot Everest summit by way of its northern slope, in Tibet.
The school has graduated 40 students and has 30 enrolled -- a total that includes eight women, Zhang said.
Critics say ethnic Tibetans lose out on jobs to workers from China's dominant Han ethnic group. The school helps to even things out by boosting local incomes, Zhang said.
Even so, he said the school -- which has received $875,000 from Beijing -- will eventually be expanded to admit students from outside Tibet.
The students live in the compound of three-story buildings just minutes from the center of Lhasa, the capital, against a backdrop of mountain peaks.
The curriculum mixes outdoor training, such as ice-climbing techniques, with classes on mountaineering theory, English and Mandarin.
"I've been climbing since I was a child," said Awang, a deeply tanned 23-year-old graduate from the village of Nilang, near Tibet's border with Nepal. "It's great that this school can help our people."
He has scaled Everest three times.
Besides the Himalayas, Tibet has two other major mountain ranges, with five peaks over 26,000 feet and more than 200 over 23,000 feet.
That translates to brisk business for Himalaya Expedition, which charges clients from all over the world about $1,800 for each guided ascent of Everest.
Last year, guides from the Tibet Guide School helped a team of Chinese mountaineers reach the Everest summit during the 50th anniversary of the first successful ascent in 1953 by Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and his Nepalese guide, Tenzing Norgay.
The school has also organized trips up Everest and other peaks to pick up trash left by mountaineers. A room at the school exhibits trophies from those jaunts -- a pile of empty oxygen tanks, torn tents and worn-out climbing shoes.
In 2002 alone, about a ton of refuse was brought down, Zhang said.
The school is leaving bodies of dead climbers on the peaks because it cannot afford to bring them down, said Rinchin Puntsok, the assistant principal.
"Some of the bodies I've seen are intact," said Puntsok, an animated man who has scaled Everest and lost his fingertips to frostbite. "Their faces look like they passed away during their sleep. It's so vivid."
On one cloudy summer day, climbers gathered at the climbing rock, taking turns climbing while the others held safety ropes.
The exuberant group grew shy when foreign reporters approached.
Ludha, 23, raced up and down the rock. Then he said, grinning, "I do this for love."