Campers, hikers, and climbers should all follow a “Leave No Trace” approach when exploring the great outdoors. Unfortunately for Mt. Everest, a lack of this ethic has resulted in the famous peak being littered with thousands of pounds of garbage. The Nepalese government passed new rules requiring climbers to carry 17.6 pounds (8kg) of trash off the mountain (in addition to their own garbage) before they are allowed to leave. There is no word yet about what kind of fine or penalty will be leveraged in the event of non-compliance.
Over 60 years after Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the top of Mt. Everest, thousands of climbers have attempted to follow in their frigid footsteps. While the glory of ascent and photographs of triumphant mountaineers may last forever, so does the garbage they leave behind.
In 2013 alone, a joint Indian-Nepali team picked up 4.4 tons of garbage, which included anything from spent oxygen canisters, torn tents, human waste, and even frozen corpses. Due to the extremely low temperatures on the mountain, each piece of trash remains frozen in time and unable to decompose. The two most frequented routes, the Northeast Ridge and Southeast Ridge, can also become horribly crowded with climbers, creating bottlenecks to the summit and contributing to what climber Mark Jenkins describes as “garbage leaking out of the glaciers and pyramids of human excrement befouling the high camps.”
Each expedition currently has to pay a $4,000 deposit, which is only refunded once the members have proven they have reclaimed everything they started with. Even so, enforcing the responsible behavior has been tricky, and the government will set up an office next week at base camp to collect trash, supply medical aid, and mediate between fights that occasionally erupt between climbers and guides.
Mt. Everest highlights a number of conundrums facing eco-tourism. In the beginning of Everest’s exploration, locals were concerned that climbers would harm an area they considered sacred. In the coming decades, the influx of mountaineers brought a flush of money to the economy, but also cultural misunderstandings and pollution. To draw attention to the dark side of the sport, an organization of climbers and artists have removed 1.5 tons of garbage, including a wrecked 1970’s era helicopter, to fashion 75 works of art. The proceeds fom their sale go will go to the Everest Summiteers Association to assist in cleanup efforts. Hopefully, the government’s new laws will further encourage the proper stewardship for one of the world’s most majestic and formidable mountains.