Thousands of people have climbed Mount Everest since it was first conquered in 1953. While adventurers continue to set out to defeat the world's highest mountain, a trail of garbage is what is left behind.
The southern face of Mount Everest, known locally as Sagarmatha
While adventurers continue to set out to defeat the world's highest mountain, empty oxygen bottles, ropes, tents and other garbage is what they leave behind. Although people are becoming more conscious about the environment, not much seems to change on the mountain trails. But three years ago, the Eco Everest Expedition in Nepal introduced the "Cash for Trash" program which has been able reduce the amount of waste there.
Veteran mountaineer Apa Sherpa on an expedition to clear away trash left on Mt. Everest
"Expeditions these days are a lot more responsible," says Dawa Steven Sherpa from Eco Everest Expedition, who, with the help of mountaineers and other environmentalists, has been creating awareness about the impact of climate change in the Himalayas. He says people climbing the snow clad mountains have become aware of their "footprints," not only in terms of garbage, but also in terms of carbon footprints.
"Cash for trash"
"Everybody is very conscious about what they do on the mountains and what they leave and what they don’t leave behind. So they don’t leave garbage behind. And if they do, it’ll be because of a storm or something severe like a heavy snowfall which buries all their tents, their kitchen and everything."
Since the "Cash for Trash" program started in 2008, the Eco Everest Expedition has been able to bring down more than 13,500 kilograms of garbage from the high mountains. "For every person that comes here and brings garbage to us, we give them 100 rupees per kilogram, you can calculate to roughly 1 euro," explains Dawa Steven about the program. "So, this has been very successful, in that we don’t have to manage huge logistics. It’s just a matter of mobilizing the people who are already here at the base camp, and motivating them with a financial incentive to bring garbage off the mountain."
Japanese mountaineer Ken Noguchi shows garbage collected from Everest during an earlier expedition
Making expeditions eco-sensitive
It is not just their own garbage and human waste that climbers carry down to the base camp, but also old garbage. This invaluable service cannot be underestimated. A recent eco expedition to collect trash beyond 8,000 meters was hampered by unpredictable weather and fresh snow. Efforts to make expeditions eco-sensitive by using alternative energy solutions like the parabolic solar cookers and solar lighting have worked. A good thing, according to Dawa Steven who believes the human footprint has taken its toll on the mountain.
"If you compare it to when Hillary and Tenzing Sherpa first climbed it, the glacier used to be much higher. In other words the altitude of the glacier is also decreasing," adds Dawa Steven. "And so you can see the scars on the sides of the mountains where the glacier used to be only 50 years ago, and where we are now. " He adds that more and more rock is being exposed every year as the ice cover continues to melt.
More rock is being exposed every year as the ice cover continues to melt
Melting peaks and glaciers
Ang Tshering Sherpa, Chairman of Asian Trekking, says "the snow peaks are melting and the glaciers are melting so fast and turning into huge glacial lakes, which are threatening people living below." The reason is because the temperature rise in the high Himalayan region is "double the temperature rise of the global average."
More than 50 percent of glaciers in the Himalayas are retreating rapidly every year as a result of climate change. Even at base camp, located some 5360 meters above sea level, the glaciers are 30 or 40 meters lower than they were in 1950.
Author: Sherpem Sherpa
Editor: Sarah Berning