Everest’s highest camp takes years to clear frozen debris: NPR

A member of a team funded by the Nepalese government uses a shovel to clear frozen debris on Mount Everest in Nepal in 2021. In the seven decades since Everest was first conquered, thousands of climbers have reached the summit, and many more have left behind. Only their footprints.

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KATHMANDU, Nepal — The highest camp on the world’s highest mountain is littered with debris that will take years to clean, says a Sherpa who led a team working to remove debris and dig up dead bodies that have been frozen for years near Mount Everest. peak.

A team of Nepalese government-sponsored soldiers and Sherpas removed 11 tons (24,000 pounds) of debris, four dead bodies and a skeleton from Everest during this year’s climbing season.

Aung Babu Sherpa, who led the group of Sherpas, said there may still be 40-50 tons (88,000-110,000 pounds) of debris at the South Col, the last camp before climbers make their summit attempt.

“Debris left there are mostly old tents, some food packs and gas cartridges, oxygen bottles, tent packs and ropes used for climbing and tying tents,” he said, adding that the debris was piled up and frozen to 8,000. Meters (26,400-feet) South Gol Camp is located.

Since the peak was first conquered in 1953, thousands of climbers have scaled it and many have left more than just their footprints.

In recent years, the government’s requirement that hikers bring back their litter or lose their deposit has significantly reduced the amount of litter, increasing environmental awareness among hikers. However, this was not the case in previous decades.

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“Most of the rubbish is from old expeditions,” said Ang Babu.

The Sherpas in the group collected debris and bodies from high-spirited areas, while the soldiers worked for weeks at low levels and in the base camp area during the popular spring climbing season, when the weather is most favorable.

Garbage collected on Mount Everest is piled before being sorted for recycling at a facility run by Agni Ventures, a recyclable waste management company, in Kathmandu, Nepal, Monday, June 24, 2024.

Garbage collected on Mount Everest is piled before being sorted for recycling at a facility run by Agni Ventures, a recyclable waste management company, in Kathmandu, Nepal, Monday, June 24, 2024.

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Aung Babu said the weather was a major challenge for their work in the South Col region, where oxygen levels are one-third of normal, air quickly changes to blizzard conditions and temperatures drop.

“We had to wait for good weather when the sun melted the snow cover. But it was not possible to wait long with that approach and conditions,” he said. “The oxygen level is so low that it’s hard to stay long.”

Digging out debris is also a big task because it is frozen in the ice and it is not easy to break the blockages.

It took two days to dig up a body near the South Pole, which was frozen deep in ice, he said. In part, bad weather forced the group to retreat to lower camps and then resume after it improved.

Another body was found at an altitude of 8,400 meters (27,720 ft) and it took 18 hours for Helicopter 2 to tow it to the camp.

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

Of the 11 tons of garbage removed, three tons of biodegradable materials were transported to villages near the base of Everest, while the remaining eight were transported by porters and yaks and then trucked to Kathmandu. It was sorted for recycling at a facility operated by Agni Ventures, a recyclable waste management company.

“The oldest waste we’ve got since 1957 is rechargeable batteries for torch lights,” said the agency’s Sushil Khatka.

Why do hikers leave litter?

“At that altitude, life is very difficult and oxygen is very limited. So climbers and their helpers are more focused on saving themselves,” Khatka said.

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