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Mount Everest Highest Camp Faces Crisis with Tons of Frozen Garbage

Ang Babu Sherpa, who led the Sherpa team tasked with cleaning Mount Everest's highest camp, South Col, revealed shocking details about the extent of garbage left behind. He estimated a staggering 40-50 tons (88,000-110,000 pounds) of waste still remains at the camp, predominantly consisting of old tents, food packaging, gas cartridges, oxygen bottles, tent packs, and climbing ropes. This debris is frozen solid at the 8,000-meter (26,400-foot) altitude, posing a formidable challenge for removal.

During the recent climbing season, a Nepal government-funded team, comprising soldiers and Sherpas, undertook a cleanup effort that resulted in the removal of 11 tons (24,000 pounds) of garbage, along with the recovery of four bodies and one skeleton from Everest. Ang Babu Sherpa highlighted the arduous conditions they faced, including severe weather fluctuations, blizzards, and dangerously low oxygen levels, which complicate any prolonged work at such altitudes.

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The cleanup operation involved Sherpas tackling higher-altitude areas while soldiers focused on lower levels and the base camp. Weather conditions dictated their schedule, as they waited for optimal moments when sunlight could melt ice covering the trash. Retrieving bodies frozen deep within the ice was particularly challenging; one body was even found standing frozen in place, requiring meticulous effort over several days to recover.

Despite recent efforts to enforce stricter regulations on climbers regarding waste disposal, remnants from earlier expeditions still dominate the trash. This cleanup effort not only aims to preserve the natural beauty of Everest but also respects the sanctity of those who lost their lives on the mountain. The recovered bodies were airlifted to Kathmandu for identification, while recyclable waste was sorted for processing in local facilities.

Reflecting on the enduring challenge of waste management on Everest, Sherpa and environmental agencies stress the need for continued vigilance and responsible climbing practices to safeguard this iconic mountain and its fragile ecosystem.

July 6, 2024 1 p.m. 515

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