The real questRecords on Everest make headlines, but govt must take steps to keep it clean for posterity
The spring climbing season for this year is over. With more than 450 ascents, 2018 saw the second highest number of people summit Everest ever since it was first scaled in 1953. This year Kami Rita Sherpa set the record by climbing the world’s tallest mountain 22 times, while a Chinese climber became the first double amputee to summit the highest peak. Every year, old records tumble and new ones are set.
The lure of Everest helps government collect huge revenues from the ambitious climbers. In fact, this spring alone, Rs361.49 million was collected in royalties. But as every year this year too, a horde of climbers snaked along the slopes of Everest, leaving behind tonnes of rubbish, human waste and old equipment on the mountain. At such a high altitude even the biodegradable waste stays fresh for decades. This begs the question: Are we doing justice to these high mountains? Are we doing enough to preserve them for posterity?
Over the past six decades, climbers over left 50 tonnes of trash on Everest. This includes empty oxygen bottles, food containers, tents and other climbing equipment. In an effort to clean the trash-strewn slopes, Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC), an NGO, was established in 1991 to help tackle the growing pollution. According to SPCC’s guidelines, alpinists have to pay a deposit of $4000 and they get a refund only if they bring all their equipment and trash back down with them. Additionally, the Ministry of Tourism in 2014 introduced a rule mandating each climber to return with 18 pounds of trash. However, these rules are loosely enforced at best.
Over 150 government officials are mobilised by the Ministry of Tourism in the Khumbu Region annually as liaison officers who are supposed to monitor climbing activities. Unsurprisingly, in the lack of oversight over them only three to four officials make it up to the Base Camp. Many of these officials never even travel to the Khumbu region and avail themselves of the government perks from Kathmandu. This brazen disregard for Nepal’s—and indeed the world’s—one great natural asset is nothing short of scandalous.
The Himalayas have long been revered as the abode of the gods. So much so that each climber is encouraged to worship the mountain before their ascent. The Himalayas are a unique part of our national identity as Nepal hosts eight out of the 14 peaks above 8000 metres in the world. But with the mass commercialisation of expeditions on Everest and other high peaks, the spiritual link that people once had with the mountains is dissipating. Is Everest, or any other high mountain, fast becoming just another tourist destination?
Setting records, pushing boundaries are central to mountaineering, but it should be also coupled with responsibility. The government must come up with a long-term plan for waste management in the mountains and take serious action against defaulters. There are provisions in place as it is, but they ring hollow in the absence of robust implementation.