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DIRT ON THE PEAK

When, fifty years ago, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay stood on the summit of the world’s highest mountain, nobody could have guessed that human beings would pose a major threat to the mountain. Every year climbers go up the mountain face from Nepal and litter the landscape with the debris of mountaineering: used oxygen bottles, tents, ropes, human excreta and even dead bodies. The Western Cwm and the South Col, despite their terrifying natural beauty, are no longer clean and healthy places. It is no surprise that every important mountaineer who is currently in Kathmandu for the silver jubilee of the first successful ascent has commented on the pollution prevailing on the mountain. The voice of Reinhold Messner, arguably the greatest living mountaineer and the man who made an oxygen-less, solo ascent, has been loudest in the condemnation of the waste that is left on the slopes of Everest. If this continues, Mountain Everest will no longer remain the same. It is true that in recent months cleaning expeditions have gone up the mountain and have brought down many tons of rubbish. But this is not a permanent solution. It is necessary for the mountaineering community to formulate a body of codes for Everest. Mount Everest and its condition are ultimately the responsibility of those who have climbed it and of those who want to climb it. It is somewhat naïve to expect the Nepalese government to set out such regulations since the world’s highest peak is one of Nepal’s principal foreign exchange earners.

The problem of pollution is especially important for the Nepal side of Mount Everest. The access to the mountain via its Southeastern face is the most popular because it is the easiest. It has come to be called the yak route by mountaineers. The other faces of Everest are less polluted. The massive Eastern face rising sheer from the Kangshung glacier has been attempted only a few times. The North Face reached from Tibet was closed for a long time. It is a shorter but a tougher climb with the formidable Pinnacles and the First and Second Steps. Pollution on these faces is by no means non-existent but it is not as acute as on the route up the South Col. Everest is not the most beautiful mountain in the Himalaya. Pumori and Aba Dablam have better claims to that title. But Everest with its plumes is still something to behold. Let not human litter dirty what nature created. The third pole will always remain a challenge to human courage. But this is no reason for human beings to leave Everest as polluted as other lesser parts of the globe.

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