Abandoned tents and human waste add to detritus on Mount Everest

Everest has so much garbage that climbers use it as a kind of signpost

This May 21, 2019, photo provided by climber Dawa Steven Sherpa shows Camp Four, the highest camp on Mount Everest littered with abandoned tents. (Dawa Steven Sherpa/Asian Trekking via AP)

After every party, it’s time to clean up and Mount Everest is no different.

The record number of climbers crowding the world’s highest mountain this season has left a government cleanup crew grappling with how to clear away everything from abandoned tents to human waste that threatens drinking water.

Budget expedition companies charge as little as $30,000 per climber, cutting costs including waste removal. Everest has so much garbage — depleted oxygen cylinders, food packaging, rope — that climbers use the trash as a kind of signpost. But this year’s haul from an estimated 700 climbers, guides and porters on the mountain has been a shock to the ethnic Sherpas who worked on the government’s cleanup drive this spring.

Moreover, the tents are littering South Col, or Camp 4, which, at 8,000 metres (26,240 feet) is the highest campsite on Everest, just below the summit. The high winds at that elevation have scattered the tents and trash everywhere.

“The altitude, oxygen levels, dangerously icy and slippery slopes, and bad weather of South Col make it very difficult to bring such big things as tents down,” said Dawa Steven Sherpa, who led an independent cleanup last month and has been a leading figure in the campaign to clean Mount Everest for the past 12 years.

READ MORE: Canadian climber says crowding on Mount Everest is just one factor in death count

Exhausted climbers struggling to breathe and battling nausea leave heavy tents behind rather than attempt to carry them down. Sherpa said the logos on the ice-embedded tents that identify the expedition companies were deliberately ripped out so the culprits could evade detection.

“It took us an hour to dig out just one tent out of the frozen ice and bring it down,” said Sherpa. His expeditions have alone brought down some 20,000 kilograms (44,000 pounds) of garbage since 2008.

Sherpa estimated 30 tents had been left on South Col, and as much as 5,000 kilograms (11,000 pounds) of trash. Bringing it down is a herculean task when any misstep at such altitudes could be fatal.

It is impossible to know exactly how much litter is spread across Everest because it only becomes visible when the snow melts. At Camp 2, two levels higher than Base Camp, the campaigners believe that around 8,000 kilograms (17,637 pounds) of human excrement were left during this year’s climbing season alone.

Some climbers do not use makeshift toilets, instead digging a hole in the snow, letting the waste fall into small crevasses. However, rising temperatures have thinned the glacier, leaving fewer and smaller crevasses. The overflowing waste then spills downhill toward Base Camp and even communities below the mountain.

People living at the Base Camp use melted snow for drinking water that climbers’ toilets threaten to contaminate.

“During our expedition to Camp 2, eight of our 10 Sherpas got stomach illness from bad water at Camp 2,” said John All, a professor of environmental science at Western Washington University who visited Everest on a research expedition.

For the Nepalese who regard the mountain as “Sagarmatha,” or Mother of the World, littering amounts to desecration. Climber Nima Doma, who returned recently from a successful ascent, gets angry thinking that the sacred mountain is being turned into a garbage dump.

“Everest is our god and it was very sad to see our god so dirty. How can people just toss their trash on such a sacred place?” she said.

The trash is creating danger for future climbers and spurring calls for action now.

“When the snow melts the garbage surfaces. And when there is high wind, tents are blown and torn and the contents are scattered all over the mountain, which makes it even more dangerous for climbers already navigating a slippery, steep slope in snow and high winds,” said Ang Tshering, former president of Nepal Mountaineering Association.

Binaj Gurubacharya, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Blackfalds RCMP officer’s firearm discharged in struggle

Red Deer and Sylvan Lake RCMP assist after police vehicle stolen

Sylvan Lake RCMP assist Red Deer, Blackfalds in major drug bust

RCMP arrest six and seize drugs, cash, firearms and vehicles in drug trafficking investigation

Red Deer-Lacombe MP, other Conservative MPs meet with AB justice minister

Calkins said the justice system is a revolving door for criminals targeting rural areas

Eckville Town Council approves 2020 budget

Council voted to approve the 2020 Operating and Capital Budget as presented on Dec. 9

VIDEO: Success of wildlife corridors in Banff National Park has advocates wanting more

Demand for more highway protection escalated after seven elk were killed by a semi-trailer near Canmore

Five things of note from Trudeau’s mandate letters to his ministers

Some marching orders come from the Liberal Party’s campaign, while others are new additions

Scheer’s resignation tips party into internal war over school tuition payments

The Conservatives have a Toronto convention already scheduled for April

Two adults, two youths from Maskwacis charged in ATV, gun theft

Wetaskiwin RCMP Investigate Break, Enter & Theft and Weapons Offences - Arrests

Indigenous mother wins $20,000 racial discrimination case against Vancouver police

Vancouver Police Board ordered to pay $20,000 and create Indigenous-sensitivity training

‘He was good for the West:’ Sadness, surprise in Saskatchewan over Scheer

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and his predecessor, Brad Wall, both thanked Andrew Scheer

Johnson claims Brexit mandate with new conservative majority

Conservative Party wins 365 seats in the House of Commons

Couple who bought $120k banana duct-taped to wall say artwork will be ‘iconic’

Pair compared it to Warhol’s ‘Campbell’s Soup Cans,’ which was initially ‘met with mockery’

Alberta to change drug coverage for 26,000 patients, expects to save up to $380M

Patients being treated with biologics on government-sponsored drug plans must switch to biosimilars

Most Read