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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Talks with hereditary chiefs run into the night

Ministers expected to make statement Saturday morning

Mohawks propose temporary Indigenous police for Wet’suwet’en territory

The RCMP has already committed to ending patrols along a critical roadway

Talks with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs enter second day

Federal and provincial ministers ready to extend discussions

Wet’suwet’en herreditary chiefs meet with provincial, federal ministers

Neither party speaking on the groundwork laid for tomorrow’s talks

Coastal GasLink agrees to two-day pause of pipeline construction in Morice River area

Work will stop once Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs begin talks with province and feds

Toddler killed in Squamish grocery store parking lot

Child’s mother taken to hospital but her condition is not known

Two law enforcement trucks ‘deliberately’ set on fire in northern B.C., RCMP say

Police say they have video evidence of a person in the area of the truck fires

B.C. mother, daughter return home after coronavirus quarantine in Asia

Jensine Morabito and her daughter were on Holland America’s Westerdam but did not catch the virus

Leap Year means we get an extra day in February, so how are you spending it?

People online have a number of suggestions and plans on how they will be spending Saturday

Greta sticker that drew outrage in Alberta not child pornography: RCMP

X-Site Energy Services has denied having anything to do with the stickers

Bald eagle hit by train in northern B.C. has a chance of survival

The raptor has been taken to OWL in the Lower Mainland for recovery

Cheslatta Carrier Nation and Rio Tinto sign a historic agreement

Co-operation crucial to stem dropping Nechako Reservoir level

Hundreds of B.C. firefighters ‘climb the wall’ for BC Lung Association

The charity fundraiser saw participants climbing up 48 storeys

Most Read