Someone had to say it, and that someone was Ang Tshering, the chief of Nepal’s mountaineering association.
On Tuesday, Tshering told reporters that the buildup of human waste has become so bad on the world’s tallest mountain that climbers now risk contracting disease. He urged the Nepalese government to address the issue to keep the mountain clean.
Sadly, this is but one facet of a growing problem on Everest, which has attracted climbers the world over since the mid-twentieth century. Yet its allure is not limited to climbers, as Mark Jenkins documented in a 2013 article for National Geographic:
“Everest has always been a trophy, but now that almost 4,000 people have reached its summit, some more than once, the feat means less than it did a half century ago. Today roughly 90 percent of the climbers on Everest are guided clients, many without basic climbing skills. Having paid $30,000 to $120,000 to be on the mountain, too many callowly expect to reach the summit.”
Jenkins describes 500 climbers mobbing the summit in the spring of 2012, an endless line of climbers, “bumper to bumper,” then compares it to the mountain in 1963, when only six people managed to summit it. Everest has now become a destination for the wealthy and the woefully inexperienced, and it can often cost lives.
“Only half the people here have the experience to climb this mountain,” Jenkins’ sherpa, Panuru, told him. “The half without experience are the most likely to die.”
Since the mountain was first scaled by Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953, some 250 people have died following their footsteps. But at over 29,000 feet high, Everest’s thin air and freezing temperatures make for extreme conditions that preclude survival, much less heavy lifting. For that reason, the mountain is not only piled with human excrement, it is also covered in corpses.
Yet Nepal, which ranks among the poorest countries in the world, needs Everest to remain the high-priced tourist destination it has become. So, while Mark Jenkins would prefer Nepal issue fewer permits, remove the bodies and require certification for climbers and smaller climbing teams, the government is unlikely to pass any reforms that cut into its revenue.
Last year, officials did pass a new rule that requires climbers to bring eight kilograms (17.6 pounds) of trash down to base camp – at the risk of losing a $4,000 deposit – but it doesn’t change the fact that the mountain is dangerously overcrowded.
At the same time it was issuing its new trash rule, Nepal also overhauled Everest’s security and set up medical aid and mediation services. This was in response to a fight that broke out between European climbers and local guides.
Meanwhile, the garbage just keeps piling up: cooking gas cylinders, ropes, tents, beer cans, plastic, bodies, feces, etc.
Since 2008, Dawa Steven Sherpa has been leading cleanup expeditions up the mountain. Speaking on the ubiquity of human waste, he told The Guardian, “It is a health hazard and the issue needs to be addressed.”