Ecocentric

60 Years After Man First Climbed Everest, the Mountain Is a Mess

Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbed Mount Everest for the first time 60 years ago today. Climbing is more common now — and the mountain has become a trash heap

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Time can erode even the greatest of achievements, as they’re repeated or surpassed: think Roger Bannister’s four-minute mile, Chuck Yeager’s smashing of the sound barrier, Yuri Gagarin becoming the first person in space. Perhaps that has happened to Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, who 60 years ago today became the first people to reach the peak of Mount Everest. It was a mountain that had defeated or killed all who had tried before, and Hillary and Norgay were only able to remain on the peak for 15 minutes before they had to begin descending, low on oxygen. They truly went where no man had gone before.

Today, though, Everest’s peak is a decidedly less lonely place. More than 3,500 people have successfully climbed the 29,029 ft. (8,848 m) mountain — and more than a tenth of that number scaled the peak just over the past year. On one day alone in 2012, 234 climbers reached the peak. As more and more people try to test themselves against Everest — often paying over $100,000 for a “guided climb” — this desolate mountain is becoming as crowded as a Tokyo subway car at rush hour. Climbers have complained about waiting for hours in bottlenecks on the way to the summit, a situation that isn’t just uncomfortable — it’s cold and windy up there — but downright dangerous. If bad weather strikes during one of those bottlenecks, climbers can and do die, as happened in the sudden 1996 blizzard that took the lives of eight climbers near the summit, a disaster that later became the Jon Krakauer book Into Thin Air.

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But the tiresome, dangerous crowds aren’t the only problems on Everest. All those climbers need to bring a lot of gear — and much of that gear ends up being left on the mountain, sometimes even the summit itself. Mount Everest — once the most remote and forbidding spot on the planet — is becoming the world’s tallest trash heap.

Here’s mountaineer Mark Jenkins writing in National Geographic about the state of Everest:

The two standard routes, the Northeast Ridge and the Southeast Ridge, are not only dangerously crowded but also disgustingly polluted, with garbage leaking out of the glaciers and pyramids of human excrement befouling the high camps. And then there are the deaths. Besides the four climbers who perished on the Southeast Ridge, six others lost their lives in 2012, including three Sherpas.

Expedition teams have left empty oxygen canisters, torn tents and other leftover equipment along the paths that lead from base camp to the summit. And because Everest is so cold and icy, the waste that’s left there, stays there, preserved for all time.

(PHOTOS: Sir Edmund Hillary: First Ascent of Mount Everest)

You can’t necessarily blame the climbers, especially inexperienced ones, for their littering habit. Even under the best conditions, climbing the tallest mountain in the world is exhausting, dangerous work. Dropping used supplies on the mountain rather than carrying them can save vital energy and weight. It’s not exactly equivalent to tossing a beer can in a city park, but the accumulated trash is still steadily ruining a unique place on earth. “You are surrounded by filth,” mountaineer Paul Thelen told Germany’s Die Welt recently.

But the good news is that some mountaineers are taking it upon themselves to clean up Everest. Thelen and his friend Eberhard Schaaf are part of the annual Eco Everest Expedition, which has been cleaning up trash from base camp to the summit since 2008. So far they’ve collected over 13 tons of garbage, as well as a whole lot of frozen excrement and the occasional frozen corpse. (Nothing ever goes away on Everest.) And just recently a joint India-Nepal military team collected over 2 tons of garbage on the slopes of the mountain.

Some of that trash is even being used for a higher purpose — in the spiritual sense, if not the altitude one. As part of the Mount Everest 8848 Art Project, a group of 15 artists from Nepal collected 1.5 tons of garbage brought down the mountain by climbers. They’ve transformed the cans and oxygen cylinders — and in one case, part of the remains of a helicopter — into 74 pieces of art that have already gone on exhibition in Nepal’s capital. Part of the proceeds from sales will go to the Everest Summiteers Association, which has helped collect tons of debris off the mountain. This is high-end recycling.

The association estimates that there might still be 10 tons of trash left on the mountain, and if the number of climbers on Everest keeps increasing, that figure will only grow. There’s no beating Hillary and Norgay, who pulled off a feat 60 years ago that many thought was physically impossible. But at least the thousands of climbers who have followed in their footsteps can take better care of this magnificent mountain.

PHOTOS: Summiting Everest: Nothing Like the First Time

55 comments
TheTimeIsStupid
TheTimeIsStupid

This is a stupid conversation, because I declare that Mt. Everest is my, I'll go to war with F-ing China and F-ing India, if I have too.  I want Mt. Everest own and operated by the almighty me.  So, you guys can suck it.

Kilimanjaro-TanzaniteSafaris
Kilimanjaro-TanzaniteSafaris

Mountain climbers encounter snow at high mountains like everest,kilimanjaro,elbrus,denali,ancocagua e.t.c

Warm clothes and proper meals helps most climbers. 

Kilimanjaro-TanzaniteSafaris
Kilimanjaro-TanzaniteSafaris

Science time is useful information portal and provides information for many people. Mountain climbing need information to prepare hiking gears

PeterKelly
PeterKelly

There is of course the uncertainity of George Mallory and Irvine in 1924. Hillary may not have been the first.

MarkLamantia
MarkLamantia

why dont we just stop climbing the damn mountain and just be satisfied by looking at it? why do we have this need to climb it after many people have done it? stop the nonsense, and take your crap back down with you if you dragged the sh#t up there!

RayZfox
RayZfox

Does it matter?

Do any animals beside humans live there?

Can you see the little bit for trash from lower levels?

This all comes off as an ill planned environmentalist's stupid wet dream.

BenHenderson
BenHenderson

You can’t necessarily blame the climbers, especially inexperienced ones, for their littering habit. Even under the best conditions, climbing the tallest mountain in the world is exhausting, dangerous work. Dropping used supplies on the mountain rather than carrying them can save vital energy and weight.

This is why you plan your trip before you go. Except under rare life threatening circumstance if you cant pack out what you pack in you have no business trying to climb any mountain

Champagne
Champagne

The solution to this pollution problem is to require every climber to scale the summit naked! Now take that Tenzing!

janisegrubber
janisegrubber

People have to poop somewhere whilst  mountain climbing

mrtony60
mrtony60

Frankly speaking there should be no more climbing this mountain at this point it's beyond retarded!!!!!! People should seek other goals and move on!!!! The mountain is being destroyed by all the activity and pollution!!!! stop it already!!!! The native American believed that we are here on earth as custodians and that nature does not and cannot bet belong to anyone.

kuei12
kuei12

Since it is no longer so challenging, perhaps they should install some boobie traps along the way to the summit to make things more interesting. Landmines, bear traps and tasers would be a good start. Might even make a good reality show.

kattalker
kattalker

It shows the greed,it is all about :me,me,me,the pretty pictures at the summit the stories at home,a real man.....does not leave his trash behind

buffalo.barnes102
buffalo.barnes102

Ah! Mankind! The only species that cuts down trees to wipe it's collective as*. 

BrianGreul
BrianGreul

This is easy, require the posting of a $2,000 per pound gear bond.  Whatever you don't come back with you forfeit.  If $2k is not enough then raise it.  At some point a happy medium will result and it will self-fund the removal of debris balanced with the desire not to leave anything behind.

4ncrblz
4ncrblz

"Climbers have complained about waiting for hours in bottlenecks on the way to the summit, a situation that isn’t just comfortable—it’s cold and windy up there—but down right dangerous."

TYPOS: should be "uncomfortable" and "downright"

vapozilla@yahoo.com
vapozilla@yahoo.com

if i catch any of you throwing trash away up there i wil personally take away your oxygen tanks and you will perish.

then you will get cleaned up with the rest of the trash the following year.

apealbista
apealbista

We ought to make the himalaya providence clean and clear from those tons of trash thrown by those of climbers. It is 60 years that the human foot prints have been placed on such mountains and so will be continuing unless we preserve it for further generations. Lets work out on ourself via these link http://www.adsurf.ne.  

molly.ciliberti
molly.ciliberti

They need to heed the Mountainers of the Pacific NW "Pack it in, Pack it out, leave only footprints.

yachtboy9
yachtboy9

The epitaph of Mankind " Wherever we go, we throw".  Wait till we get out into space

bryangb
bryangb

"Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, who 60 years ago today became the first person to reach the peak of Mt. Everest." Was Tenzing Norgay's name-check an after-thought? That's people, not person.

And anyway, were they the first to the top? Possibly not - George Mallory also has a claim on that. The key thing was they were the first to make it there *and get back alive*.

darlene
darlene

Take nothing but pictures leave nothing but footprints- I hate camping and even I know that.

JohnTaylor1
JohnTaylor1

As an ex backpacer, the motto ground deeply in me is, "if you carry your trash in, carry it out. Leave your campsite as if you have never been there.." Not sure if anyone remember that line of thought when teaching backpacking to young campers...

josiev228
josiev228

wealthy people (that's who can afford to climb mt everest)  don't care what they destroy...the only thing that matters is that they get to scream about what they 'achieved'....     sherpas' dying...leaving tons of crap on the mountain...bypassing other rich people in distress just so they can reach the top.   they should be charged 100 times whtever they pay to make the trek...to pay for others to go clean their mess.

john_rambo
john_rambo

"Frozen excrement"   .......nice.

notLostInSpace
notLostInSpace

I thought people that climbed mountains were usually the earth friendly eco types, but I must be mistaken because it sounds more like the "earth is not warming and we can trash it" bunch.

AcaciaJules
AcaciaJules

Anyone who's climbed ANY mountain and left things behind should be ashamed. The Sherpas should start keeping track for the local authorities, and charge them money for cleanup costs. 

VijayBanga
VijayBanga

Man is a mess not the mountain,it is just but a mute witness

TheTimeIsStupid
TheTimeIsStupid

@Kilimanjaro-TanzaniteSafaris This is a stupid conversation, because I declare that Mt. Everest is my, I'll go to war with F-ing China and F-ing India, if I have too.  I want Mt. Everest own and operated by the almighty me.  So, you guys can suck it.

TheTimeIsStupid
TheTimeIsStupid

@Kilimanjaro-TanzaniteSafaris This is a stupid conversation, because I declare that Mt. Everest is my, I'll go to war with F-ing China and F-ing India, if I have too.  I want Mt. Everest own and operated by the almighty me.  So, you can suck it.

GreyStephenson
GreyStephenson

@MarkLamantia really? Why do we do ANYTHING? Why should we anyone play football when we can sit down and watch it every Sunday night? Why should anyone paint when we can go to the museum and look at other people's paintings? Human beings are beings of achievement and progress. Being satisfied is not in our makeup.

TheTimeIsStupid
TheTimeIsStupid

@RayZfox This is a stupid conversation, because I declare that Mt. Everest is my, I'll go to war with F-ing China and F-ing India, if I have too.  I want Mt. Everest own and operated by the almighty me.  So, you guys can suck it......

PeterKelly
PeterKelly

@RayZfox No animals live there. Not even humans. The peak is above the death zone of 8,000 metres. Too little oxygen. Climbers can only stay above the death zone for no more than a day.  Some migrating birds fly above but can not stay at that altitude for too long.

Chromesthesia
Chromesthesia

@RayZfox I'm sorry, but they should have a bit of respect for that mountain than to trash it with their waste and their garbage. They really should consider staying off of it.

solex675
solex675

@RayZfox I vote that they take all of the trash and pile it on your lawn. Then maybe it will "matter"

gettempapa
gettempapa

@mrtony60  How is the mountain being "destroyed"? It's literally a 5 mile high frozen rock devoid of rock. Short of nuking it, mankind isn't capable of making much of an impact on it.

BenHenderson
BenHenderson

@notLostInSpace Yea the earth friendly type comprises about 20 percent of the hiking crowd and because those usually arnt the ones with money the percentage is even less in places like Mt Everest

MidwestPride
MidwestPride

@GreyStephenson >>Human beings are beings of achievement and progress. Being satisfied is not in our makeup.<<

 Grey, get over yourself.

RayZfox
RayZfox

@solex675 @RayZfox That is because its My Lawn.  If My Lawn was thousands of acres and on the side of a mountain it wouldn't matter at all.  

The problem with most environmentalist is they wont settle for Good.  They need it to be 100% as if humans never lived there.  This pits them against humans.  The fact that the trash is on the the side of a mountain 16,000 though 24,000 feet up where no animals live and bothers nobody except the climbers who are littering doesn't make any difference to them.  It has to be 100% as if humans had never lived there.


RayZfox
RayZfox

@EdPatrick @RayZfox @solex675 Don't just call somebody retarded.  Explain why they are wrong.  Ill start you off "RayZfox you are retarded because......."