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2019-06-26

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Herculean task: Nepalese army men carry empty oxygen cylinder collected from Mount Everest in Namche Bajar, Solukhumbu district, Nepal, in this file photo.   | Photo Credit: AP

After every party it is time to clean up and Mount Everest is no different. The record number of climbers crowding the world’s highest mountain this season has left a government cleanup crew grappling with how to clear away everything from abandoned tents to human waste that threatens drinking water.

Budget expedition companies charge as little as $30,000 per climber. Everest has so much garbage — depleted oxygen cylinders, food packaging, rope — that climbers use the trash as a kind of signpost. But this year’s haul from an estimated 700 climbers, guides and porters on the mountain has been a shock to the ethnic Sherpas who worked on the cleanup drive this spring.

Moreover, the tents are littering South Col, or Camp 4, which, at 8,000 metres (26,240 feet), is the highest campsite on Everest, just below the summit. The high winds at that elevation have scattered the tents and trash everywhere. “The altitude, oxygen levels, slippery slopes, and bad weather make it very difficult to bring big things as tents down,” said Dawa Steven Sherpa, who led an independent cleanup last month and has been a leading figure in the campaign to clean Mount Everest for the past 12 years.

Exhausted climbers struggling to breathe and battling nausea leave heavy tents behind rather than attempt to carry them down. Mr. Sherpa said the logos on the tents were deliberately ripped out so the culprits could evade detection.

“It took us an hour to dig out just one tent out of the frozen ice and bring it down,” said Sherpa. His expeditions have alone brought down some 20,000 kg of garbage since 2008.

Sherpa estimated 30 tents had been left on South Col, and as much as 5,000 kg of trash. Bringing it down is a herculean task when any misstep could be fatal.

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