When most people think of climbing Mount Everest, they think of brave mountaineers alone or in small groups, scaling rocky cliffs in a pristine environment.
That’s not the reality anymore.
Today, the journey to get to the top of the highest mountain in the world looks like waiting in line for an amusement park ride.1 Pictures from this climbing season show an enormous line snaking from the mountain’s highest peak, as a horde of climbers wait for their chance to reach the top.
Despite the expense (the Nepalese climbing permits are $11,000 each), more people are attempting to climb Mount Everest than ever.2 600 people made the trek this year alone. More people are also dying on Mount Everest than ever – 11 this year, the highest since 2015’s record (after an earthquake) of 19.3
But the other most worrisome part of this influx of climbers is all the trash and waste they leave behind, polluting Everest and potentially damaging its delicate environment. Noticing how disgusting the camps and trails had become, the Tourism Department of Nepal launched an Everest Cleaning Campaign that recovered no less than 6,613 pounds (3 metric tons) of trash in its first two weeks. Their goal is to recover 10 tons in 45 days.4
What Happens to Poop on Everest
Among what’s left behind includes human waste, climbing gear, and the team has even uncovered four bodies that have been exposed by melting snow.
It’s obviously not convenient to use the bathroom while climbing Mount Everest, and the waste that is collected in porta-pot-like barrels actually gets hauled down the mountain and dumped in an open pit.5
Even more gross.
There are currently plans to construct an environmentally friendly waste digester on Everest to solve this problem, but more stewardship efforts are sorely needed. The Nepalese government has started requiring a deposit for climbers which is only refunded if they return to the bottom of the summit with eight kilograms of trash. That’s a start.
We can’t let one of the most inspiring places on the planet, and the setting of so much human achievement, become another polluted garbage dump. The Nepalese and Chinese governments need to get serious about either stemming the flow of climbers or amping up the waste collection, or risk losing all passion and wonder behind one of their most amazing national (and global) landmarks.
Woodyatt, Amy. “Climbers Seek New Routes to Keep the Thrill of Everest Alive.” CNN, Cable News Network, 7 July 2019, www.cnn.com/travel/article/everest-new-route-intl/index.html.
Picheta, Rob. “Tons of Trash Removed from Everest as Cleanup Unearths Bodies.” CNN, Cable News Network, 2 May 2019, www.cnn.com/2019/05/02/asia/mount-everest-trash-cleanup-scli-intl/index.html.