Mount Everest climbers from all around the world will now be bound by a new law that shall mandate each climber to pick up trash weighing about 18 pounds or 8 kilograms when they return to the Everest base camp. This is the point where the hike up the world’s tallest mountain begins on the Nepal side. This amount of trash shall exclude each climber’s personal refuse and waste. The new rule, which is expected to go into force in April 2014, has just been passed by Nepal’s tourism ministry. Climbers who return empty handed are expected to not only face serious penalties but also stiff legal consequences.
Besides the required permits, climbers are already bound by rules regarding the requisite type of equipment and gear they need for the hike. In this respect, this new law will require just one additional item to be carried, which would be a garbage bag. Previous mountain expeditions were charged $4,000 for a garbage deposit. This was to be refunded only when climbers brought all of their trash back to base camp. This fine was mostly ineffective as it was rarely enforced. The fee was devised to work on a system of honor that was suggestive about social responsibility with an emphasis on personal hygiene.
The idea was to prevent future expeditions from further littering because this has become an acute problem. Over the past 60 years, it is estimated that around 6,000 expeditions have taken place on Mount Everest and over 50 tons of trash have been left behind by climbers who were either uneducated about the disastrous ecological consequences of their behavior or were considered in a malicious sense to just not care about having to pick up the trash they left behind. Others argue this could be out of carelessness while many justify this behavior out of necessity.
Under extreme climate conditions, climbers are often forced to shed weight as a survival technique. The threat is real and not heeding to it can have fatal consequences. It is estimated that close to 250 people have died trying to climb Mount Everest since expeditions began more than a century ago. The severe cold has preserved many of these corpses. Incidentally, these survival techniques are the same reasons behind the overwhelming amount of garbage consisting mostly of empty oxygen tanks, torn tents, discarded equipment, and empty food containers that remain on these mountain slopes. The sheer amount of trash and the super cold weather that prevents any of it from disintegrating has sadly earned Mount Everest the notorious nickname of being the “world’s tallest garbage dump.”
There have been many efforts to clean up the trash. Last year alone, a few expeditions brought back up to 2 tons of garbage. Since 2008, the annual Eco Everest Expedition has been estimated to have collected 13 tons of trash. Officials in Nepal’s government have stated that there simply was not any other option but to make future Mount Everest climbers pick up more of the trash that has been left behind. For this to work, climbers have to pack lightly and discard the practice of hauling up any unnecessary gear. While tourism in the Himalayas and Mount Everest in particular has provided a very important economic lifeline to Nepal, it is high time strict measures such as these are brought into place to preserve the world’s most majestic mountain range.
By Unni K. Nair