Mess of a mountain
- Hauling trash off Everest is a Himalayan task but somebody’s got to do it
Apr 2, 2015-
Alongside the appellation of the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest has the ignominious distinction of ‘the world’s highest junkyard.’ Ever since the first ascent by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary in 1953, Sagarmatha summiteers have continued to discard their trash on the mountain, accumulating thousands of kilograms of clothing, tents, sleeping bags, climbing equipment, oxygen cylinders, and faeces. Not to forget the roughly 200 dead bodies that act as markers on the way up. Every climbing season, which is just about to begin for this year, some 12,000 kilos of waste are generated on the mountain, according to research from the US-based Grinnell College.
In order to help reduce this growing garbage heap, a 34-member mountaineering team from the Indian Army will be arriving in Kathmandu on April 4 on a clean-up mission to mark the 50th anniversary of the first ascent of Mount Everest by an Indian. The Indian Army team will summit in May and aims to collect as much as 4,000 kilos of non-biodegradable waste.
The Indian Army initiative is just the latest in a string of recent Everest clean-up campaigns, mostly spearheaded by Nepalis. The Eco-Everest Expeditions, led by outfitter Dawa Steven Sherpa, have collected more than 15,000kg of trash from the mountain since 2008. The Everest Summiteers Association of Nepal has been active in awareness campaigns and raising funds for clean-up efforts. The government too has organised clean-up campaigns most years in partnership with NGOs and in 2014, levied a $4,000 ‘garbage deposit’ on expeditions. The deposit would be forfeit if each member of the expedition did not bring back at least 8kg of waste. Though enforcement was lax last year, officials say that enforcement will be stricter this year.
Everest clean-up campaigns are snowballing and this is a good thing. Nepal can use all the help it can get in cleaning up the mountain. After all, the trash left behind belongs to citizens from many nations. The Indian Army expedition is welcome, as are local efforts. But cleaning up Everest is a Himalayan task that is not as simple as hauling down non-biodegradable waste. Human waste, according to experts, is a bigger problem. Everest summiteers relieve themselves in the open and into crevasses, where the waste lies buried until exposed by melting snow. The waste, unable to decompose at that high altitude, becomes a health hazard as it flows down towards base camp and human settlements, contaminating water sources. Grayson Shaffer, an editor for Outside Magazine, has called the human waste on Sagarmatha a “faecal time bomb”. Bringing back human excreta cannot be pleasant but it will need to be done. For proper disposal, the Nepal government can seek technical help from research institutions in other countries in this regard--like the anaerobic digester that is being planned for 2017 in Gorakshep to turn human waste into energy, under the lead of a retired Boeing engineer.
Published: 03-04-2015 08:48