I stood on top of the world — or so I thought! In 2010, I stopped in Zermatt, Switzerland to stand on top of the highest point in Europe you can access via a mountain lift. At 3,883 meters above sea level, I thought I had met an amazing feat. Even at this height my breathing became laboured, but the pristine view was worth it.
I can only imagine what people feel like when they reach the summit of Mount Everest!
Mount Everest is nestled in the Himalayas, between Tibet and Nepal. Standing at an impressive 8,848 meters above sea level, it is the tallest mountain in the world — and puts my trip up the Swiss Alps to shame!
Mount Everest is a natural world heritage location and is visited by thousands of people each year. To conquer this amazing mountain is a feat that many dream of, and many will never accomplish. Those who do reach the summit will be admired as true adventurers who have achieved its daredevil trails.
In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first mountaineers to defeat the summit of Mount Everest. Since then, tourism has increased with thrill seekers looking to challenge the “death zone.” Each year, Nepal receives about 25,000 tourists, with a mix of those just looking, and those that have come to conquer the mountain.
When these brave adventurers and mountaineers think of ascending this miraculous mountain, they expect the summit to hold a beautiful grandeur, to seize a moment that will live with them forever. But today, what many are finding, is the world’s highest landfill.
It is estimated that over 100 tons of garbage is strewn over the trekking trails, base camps, and summit of Mount Everest and the surrounding mountains. Most of the waste includes spent oxygen tanks, tin food and beverage cans, plastic food packaging, discarded equipment such as ropes and tents, and human waste. With earth’s temperatures rising, the Khumbu glacier has slowly started to melt away, revealing more and more waste, some of which dates back over 20 and 30 years!
It is interesting that one of the Tibetan names for Mount Everest is “Chomolungma,” which means “Holy Mother.” Imagine that all of this waste has been left behind on such a sacred source of life!
The Nepal government, recognizing that Mount Everest is a main point of tourism and source of income for the country, has taken action. In 1992, they started a litter deposit program. If mountaineers do not bring their waste down from their treks, they lose their deposit. They also created an incentive program for Sherpas and other voyagers; if they receive money if they bring down spent oxygen tanks. And in 1998, the government banned glass from being taken up the mountain.
Over the years, Sherpas have led small clean ups, and now larger explorations have taken place to try to restore Mount Everest’s true beauty. One of the largest quests just happened last spring, The Saving Mount Everest Project. They collected just over eight tons of garbage from the summit, base camps and trails. The trek was completed with the help of multiple porters and yaks, who helped to carry all the material off the mountain. With such success, the group is determined to ascend again and bring more waste down to help keep the trails and mountains beautiful.
With the awareness of waste management increasing, Nepal is now looking to build multiple waste management facilities and sewage treatment plants to deal with waste not only from Mount Everest, but also the surrounding villages at the base of the mountain.
It’s amazing to think that even something as spectacular as Mount Everest does not stop people from improperly discarding their waste.
Many of us have witnessed waste here on our own local trails or in Conservation Halton parks. Climbing Rattlesnake Point or hiking Mount Nemo, I’m sure at some point you’ve seen litter along the way. You can do your part; Hike Nova Scotia has some great tips on the principles of “leave no trace.”
And remember, when you are out enjoying the outdoors, bring your waste home with you so you can properly sort it.