Sherpas on Everest Highlight Climate Change Impacts


Everest on left in cloud. Photo: Warren McLaren

Dawa Steven Sherpa stood on the top of Everest late last month, (as did Apa Sherpa for the 18th time!) as part of the Eco Everest Expedition 2008. Their expedition was about the highs and lows of humankind's achievement. For not only can we stumble through the rarefied, oxygen depleted, air of the world tallest peak , we can pump the higher atmosphere full of climate changing greenhouse gases.

It was this latter achievement that Dawa Steven Sherpa is determined to do something about. For a year ago, whilst descending from another successful Everest summit attempt, he, along with some fellow sherpas, nearly came to a very sticky end, when the famed Khumbu icefall turned to slush and collapsed. Global warming had come to the Himalaya in a very personal way. So he returned in 2008 with the with International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in tow to carry out a scientific investigation of the long Khumbu valley.

Glacial Lake Outburst Floods
One of the studies made was related to glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), where the water mass becomes to great for its natural dam wall of rubble, otherwise known as a terminal moraine, and breaks through, resulting in massive downstream flooding. (similar to the earthquake lake problem that China recently experienced. Were the glacial lakes at the foot of Everest, and elsewhere in the Himalaya, to breach their moraines, it could have catastrophic consequences for the sherpa people living down the valley. And the lakes are growing in mass as glacier ice melts become more prevalent. (Wikipedia reckons that a glacial lake outburst flood created the English Channel in days of yore, so they are not events to considered lightly.)

Solar Ovens
A ten point "Eco-Code of Conduct" (ECC) for mountaineering expeditions was also being road tested on this climb to see it if could be applied to expeditions around the world. For example, the base camp kitchen used parabolic solar heaters rather the usual kerosene or cooking gas. Sherpa reckoned they worked fantastically. "They would melt and boil 10 litres of snow in 35 minutes, and we used it for cooking, making tea, washing dishes and having showers," he said.

Additionally the expedition hauled down some 75 kilograms of climber poo and pee. This is normally left on the mountain. Hardly appropriate for a peak known as the 'Sacred Mother.'

"There are some examples of climbers who chopped off some ice to melt for water, only to find there was human excrement in it," the 24-year-old said.

Apparently at one of the camps Dawa Steven Sherpa pitched his tent, only to find that as ice started to melt he was perched onto of an old toilet tip. "It does not really decompose because it's so cold and dry."

To avoid this dilemma his expedition used Clean Mountain Cans, reusable human waste plastic drums developed for climbers in Alaska. Sherpas normally haul heavy loads up the mountain and return to lower altitudes with near to empty loads. On thos expeditions they were paid to hump down, not just human waste, but old rubbish like "parts of a crashed helicopter, old ropes, tents, climbing gear and even the body of a climber who went missing in the 1970s." :: Eco Everest, via ABC and Everest News.

See also:
Art from Everest Waste
Edmund Hillary, Nepalese Social and Eco Hero
Cleaning up Everest

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