| Clean slopes: Mount Everest
New Delhi, May 4 (Reuters): It was once called the world’s highest garbage dump.
For years, the slopes of the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest, were littered with heaps of oxygen bottles, food packets, tents, batteries and other climbing paraphernalia left behind by mountaineers.
“An estimated minimum of 290 tonnes and a maximum of 1,115 tonnes of garbage have been left in the area,” Junko Tabei of Japan, the first woman to reach the Everest summit, said in 2000. “Based on the fact that an average of 304 people a year were climbing Everest in the 1990s... the amount of garbage is increasing every year by between 15.5 and 60 tonnes.”
But as Nepal gears up to celebrate the 50th anniversary on May 29 of the first Everest ascent, climbers say the Himalayan peak is almost back to its original pristine state, thanks to concerted conservation efforts in recent years.
“If you want to find garbage on Everest now, you have to go looking for it, and you’ll only find it in some pretty obscure locations and then it will be at least 30 to 50 years old,” US mountain guide Eric Simonson said. “I know print advertisements... would have you believe there’s some huge junk pile up there. But now it’s all gone and won’t ever return. But that doesn’t make for such great press usually.”
Another cleanup is due this year when nine US climbers and nine Nepali sherpas plan to haul 1,000 kg of paper, cylinders and other rubbish down from a camp at 6,300 metres, which gets the most use after base camp.
“We’ll be able to remove the last bit during the golden jubilee celebrations, so Nepal can tell the world Mount Everest is clean,” said US climber Bob Hoffman, who is leading the cleanup.
Conservation efforts kicked off in the early 1990s when a New Zealand team removed 4,000 kg of garbage from base camp, the most crowded part of the mountain that Tibetans call Chomolungma, or Goddess Mother of the World. Over the years, many foreign and Nepali climbing teams on cleanup expeditions have hauled back mountains of garbage, ranging from cans and crampons to brass tent stakes and broken ladders.
More recently, a Japanese team returned in 2002 with 2.6 tonnes of garbage, including tents, 170 oxygen cylinders, gas cartridges and plastic that had accumulated over the years since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the top.
“Some people leave things out of laziness or because it’s a case of life or death,” mountaineer Jamling Norgay, who is Tenzing’s son, said.