Saving the Everest

The Nepal tourism authorities’ latest rules on expeditions to Mount Everest are a welcome initiative aimed at clearing the world’s highest peak of garbage accumulated through decades.

The pristine expanses and slopes of the icy and snowy ranges are now littered with so much rubbish that the peak is sometimes called the world’s highest trash can. Thousands of mountaineers have scaled Everest and earned their spurs with their physical and mental strength, stamina and skills in the most forbidding conditions. But they have also left behind a lot of polluting material there, at least 50 tonnes by some estimates. The garbage includes oxygen cylinders, canisters, parts of tents and sleeping bags, mountaineering equipment, human waste and even corpses of climbers who failed to return. They are a major cause of pollution because they remain intact without degradation in the extreme cold of the high altitudes. Some of the waste left behind has started polluting water sources in the lower regions.

Climbers are now mandated to bring back 8 kg of garbage over and above their own equipment and waste when they return from the trip and the authorities have decided to enforce the rule strictly. Those who fail to do so will have to face stringent penalties including a ban from future expeditions. Expeditions are increasing  every year and it is expected that the trash load can be brought down and eliminated over the years. The need to clean up Everest has been felt for some time and some attempts have been made in the past. Even clean-up trips have been undertaken by sherpa groups, and private companies have been engaged in the past. Incentives have been offered to the guides to bring down waste. They have been ineffective and that’s why it is felt that more effective steps with penal provisions are needed now.

There is a view that the number of expeditions should be controlled for the health of the peak. Many international companies organise expeditions in which even climbers with little experience  and training in the mountain code of conduct and without much commitment and awareness take part. It is claimed that much of the damage is done by them. The climbers themselves should be held to their responsibility to keep the peak clean.  In fact it is not just the peak, but the ecology of the entire Himalayas should be protected from mindless actions.

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