Mount Everest’s highest camp is littered with frozen debris, and cleaning it up will likely take years


KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — The highest camp on the world’s highest mountain is littered with trash that will take years to clean upsaid a Sherpa who led a team clearing rubbish and exhuming bodies that had been frozen for years near the summit of Mount Everest.

The Nepal A government-funded team of soldiers and Sherpas removed 11 tons (24,000 pounds) of trash, four bodies and a skeleton from Everest during this year’s climbing season.

Ang Babu Sherpa, who led the team of Sherpas, said there could still be about 40-50 tons (88,000-110,000 pounds) of trash at South Col, the last camp before climbers attempt the summit.

“The waste left there consisted mainly of old tents, some food packaging and gas cartridges, oxygen bottles, tent packs and ropes used for climbing and tying tents,” he said, adding that the waste is layered and frozen at the altitude of 8,000 meters (26,400 feet) where the camp on the South Col is located.

Since the peak was first conquered in 1953Thousands of climbers have scaled the mountain and many of them have left more than just their footprints.

In recent years, a government requirement that climbers return their trash or forfeit their deposits, coupled with increased environmental awareness among climbers, has significantly reduced the amount of trash left behind. This was not the case in previous decades.

“Most of the waste comes from older expeditions,” Ang Babu said.

The Sherpas in the team collected trash and bodies in the higher elevations, while the soldiers worked for weeks at lower elevations and in the base camp area during the popular spring climbing season, when weather conditions are more favorable.

Ang Babu said the weather was a major challenge for their work in the South Col area, with oxygen levels at about a third of normal, winds that can quickly turn into blizzards and temperatures that can plummet.

“We had to wait for good weather, when the sun would melt the ice. But waiting for a long time in that position and conditions is just not possible,” he said. “It’s hard to stay for a long time with very low oxygen levels.”

Digging out the waste is also quite a job, as it is frozen in the ice and the blocks are not easy to break.

It took two days to exhume a body at the South Col, which was frozen in a standing position deep in the ice, he said. Halfway up, the team had to retreat to lower camps because of worsening weather, then resume when it improved.

Another body was found much higher, at 8,400 meters (27,720 feet). It took 18 hours to drag it to Camp 2, where a helicopter picked it up.

The bodies were flown to Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu for identification.

Of the 11 tons of waste removed, three tons of degradable items were taken to villages near the base of Everest and the remaining eight were carried by porters and yaks and then trucked to Kathmandu, where they were sorted for recycling at a facility run by Agni Ventures, an agency that manages recyclable waste.

“The oldest waste we received dates back to 1957. It was rechargeable batteries for flashlights,” said Sushil Khadga of the agency.

Why do climbers leave trash behind?

“At that great height, life is very difficult and oxygen levels are very low“So climbers and their helpers are more focused on saving themselves,” Khadga said.

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