Climbers Spend 47 Days Cleaning 2.2 Tons Of Trash From Everest With Tourists Away

Even the world's most inhospitable, inaccessible places aren't untouched by human activity. Just about everywhere we go, we leave some evidence behind that we were there. And of course in those hard-to-reach spots, it's that much more challenging to clean up after ourselves, or for others to clean up later on.

And so, it's a bit heroic when someone goes to great lengths to try to get those areas back to some semblance of the pristine state they ought to be in.

Activity on the slopes of Mt. Everest and other challenging Himalayan peaks is a double-edged sword for Nepal.

While the world's highest peaks bring in much needed tourist dollars, the tourists attempting to scale the peaks leave trash by the ton behind them. It's often simply not practical or safe for them to hump empty oxygen canisters and torn tents and human waste along as they ascend and descend in life-threatening conditions.

And for the same reasons, cleanups of Everest can't happen very often, which is not ideal for those who rely on Himalayan glaciers for their water supply downstream.

However, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic cutting off tourists and thus reducing traffic on the slopes, Nepal's climbers saw an opportunity to take out some of the Himalayas' trash.

In late 2020, a group of 12 climbers led by Dawa Steven Sherpa set out on an epic cleanup of base camps in the Himalayas.

Dawa has been leading cleanups since 2008 and since 2019, he's been working with Swiss luxury brand Bally in its Peak Outlook program, which seeks to preserve some of the world's most extreme environments.

Dawa's 2020 expedition marked the first phase of Bally's "8x8000m" pledge to remove waste from the base camps at Nepal's eight mountains that are over 8,000 meters in height.

The first phase brought the climbers to Mt. Everest, Cho Oyu, Lhotse, and Makalu.

In all, Dawa's expedition to the four peaks took 47 days, with the group using alternate routes due to pandemic-related closures of official trails. Traveling west to east, the group removed 2.2 tons of trash.

Surprisingly, having less traffic on the mountains proved challenging in its own way.

"Between Everest and Makalu, we were walking where no one had walked for over a year, and we got lost," one climber told The Telegraph. "The path had grown over. It was like nature reminding us that it only takes one year to remove the trace of human trails."

This isn't the first significant cleanup of Everest or the other popular Himalayan peaks.

More regular efforts started gearing up in 2011 and in 2019, a 14-member team spent 45 days removing an astounding 6,613 pounds of garbage from Everest just over the first two weeks, CNN reported.

That expedition also recovered four bodies from the mountain.

Dawa and his team aren't finished yet, either.

The campaign to clean up the mountains and their base camps will continue later in 2021 with the team aiming to tidy Kanchenjunga, Dhaulagiri, Manaslu, Annapurna, and give another sweep of Everest.

It's inevitable that the tourists will be back one day, which is critical to Nepal's economy — tourism supports more than a million jobs and almost 8% of the nation's GDP — so pristine slopes are an important way for the country to roll out the welcome mat, as well as taking care of an extremely sensitive ecosystem.

h/t: Bally Peak Outlook

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