Mission to clean "Death Zone"
An expedition of twenty Nepali climbers will head out this week to clean what's known as the world's highest garbage dump. Located above 8,000 meters (26,246 feet) in the "death zone" of Mount Everest, it's named for its notoriously oxygen-poor air, freezing temperatures and dangerous terrain. Since the first successful ascent of the world's tallest summit by Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953, Everest has become a proverbial dump, carrying an estimated 50 tons of trash generated by the 4,000 climbers who have followed since.
Though there have been a number of clean-up missions in the past to bring down all that junk bit by bit, no one has (understandbly) dared to tackle the mountain's "death zone", which apparently has trash dating from Hillary's time, including a number of corpses."This is the first time we are cleaning at that height, the death zone. It is very difficult and dangerous," says 30 year-old Namgyal Sherpa and leader of the Extreme Everest Expedition 2010. Sherpa has already climbed Everest seven times.
Climate change is also changing the face of Everest, thanks to rapidly disappearing glaciers and snows. "The garbage was buried under snow in the past. But now it has come out on the surface because of the melting of snow due to global warming," says Sherpa. "The rubbish is creating problems for climbers ... Some items of garbage are from Hillary's time."
Sherpa and his team will scale Everest with empty rucksacks and special bags in the hopes of bringing down a projected 2,000 kgs (4,400 lbs) of empty gas canisters, oxygen bottles, discarded tents, gear, utensils and electronics scattered between South Col and the 8,850 meter (29,035 feet) summit, typically left behind by exhausted climbers as they descend.
Trash and bodies
The team also hopes to bring down five bodies, one of a them a Swiss mountaineer that perished there two years ago.
"I have seen three corpses lying there for years," explains Sherpa. "We'll bring down the body of a Swiss climber who died in the mountain in 2008 and cremate it below the base camp for which we have got the family's consent."
Increasing tourism impacting Everest heavily
Home to eight of the world's 14 tallest peaks, climbing tourism in Nepal is a critical source of income, pulling in $500 million annually and providing employment and a relatively lucrative livelihood for many locals. Thousands of climbers pay expensive fees numbering in the thousands of dollars each for permits to climb these mountains, but trash has become such a widespread problem that the Nepali government imposed a hefty deposit to ensure climbers keep them clean.
Others however are calling for a temporary closure to certain over-trafficked areas because of the environmental and resource pressures that increased tourism brings, which are exacerbating the effects of climate change in the region.
"Climate change and the receding glacial waters are global issues and not within localized control, but we are particularly worried about deforestation of the area, much of it to sustain tourism, and our campaigning has helped improve the situation, but it still isn't enough," said Elizabeth Hawley of The Himalaya Trust, an environmental charity founded by Hillary. "We feel that we have to start from the beginning in order for the region to recuperate and recycle itself."
More on Everest
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Everest and Himalayan Glaciers Could Vanish By 2035, Imperiling a Billion People