Climbing to Greater Heights & Cleaning Up in the Himalayas

Climbing to Greater Heights & Cleaning Up in the Himalayas

Apa Sherpa, 51, who has climbed Everest a record 20 times, is leading the Eco Everest Expedition 2011, which aims to collect four tonnes of garbage under a “Cash for Trash” programme funded by a private trekking company. And the Kasmiri Times reports on the state of the Himalayas:  “this planet is already under threat from an alarming rise in greenhouse gas emissions. There has been large-scale deforestation on the Himalayas where both locals and adventurers have been using trees as firewood.

AFP report (7 April 2011):

KATHMANDU — A top Nepalese mountaineer who holds the record for the number of successful summits of Everest left for another attempt on Wednesday on a mission to clean garbage from the world’s highest peak.

Apa Sherpa, 51, who has climbed the mountain a record 20 times, is leading the Eco Everest Expedition 2011, which aims to collect four tonnes of garbage under a “Cash for Trash” programme funded by a private trekking company.

A team of 58 people, including 23 foreigners, will take part, earning 100 rupees ($1.40) per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of garbage brought to the basecamp. Empty oxygen bottles, ropes and tents are the most frequently discarded items.

“If my ascent would promote the cause and help protect the mountain, I am always ready to climb,” the man nicknamed “Super Sherpa” told AFP before his flight to the Everest region.

Apa, who completed his first Everest summit in 1990, started his mountaineering career as a porter in his early teens.

He said the latest expedition would seek to set an example of how to climb in an eco-friendly manner.

“We will not use fossil fuel. We will cook using solar-enabled cookers and drink sterilised water instead of boiling it,” he said.

Around 3,000 people have climbed the 8,848-metre (29,028-foot) Himalayan peak, which straddles Nepal and China, since it was first conquered by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953.

Japanese climber Ken Noguchi will also take part in the cleaning mission. He hopes to bring down another tonne of garbage, taking the total collection to five tonnes.

This climbing season, which runs from spring to the summer monsoon, will also see a diverse group of Nepalese civil servants scale the mountain in a bid to raise awareness about climate change.


Saving the Himalayas

Tushar Charan in Kasmiri Herald on line (9 April 2011):

For the devout Hindus and Buddhists the Himalayas are the abode of gods; others see them as a snow-white mountain range of pristine beauty. The Himalayas also serve as the life line for the people in India, China and other countries in the region because the glaciers there are the largest store of water after the polar ace caps, feeding seven major rivers – the Ganga, Brahmaputra, Indus, Mekong, Thamlwin, Yangtze and Yellow River. But in recent years, the Himalayas, famous for the highest peak in the world (Everest), have also earned a dubious reputation: the highest garbage ground on planet Earth.

This planet is already under threat from an alarming rise in greenhouse gas emissions. There has been large-scale deforestation on the Himalayas where both locals and ‘adventurer” have been using trees as firewood. When Everest was first conquered by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on May 29, 1953 they had left their used equipment on the slope of the Everest. But those were the days when conservation was hardly treated as a serious issue.

In fact, today Sir Edmund is one of the biggest champions of cleaning the Himalayas and he has shown it not by words but with his deeds and action. Another notable mountaineer, Sir Chris Bonnington laments that the Himalayan ecology is being ruined by the litter.

According to the WWF, the Himalayan glaciers are melting fast. As a result countries like India, China and Nepal could expect to live through a cycle of floods followed by drought – both sources of untold miseries to people in a vast region. It is believed that the Himalayan glaciers are retreating at the rate of 10-15 metres (33-49 feet) a year. The Gangotri glacier, source for the Ganga, is receding at the rate of 23 metres (75 feet) a year. Environmentalists warn that by 2025, the temperature on Earth could rise by 2 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial era level: a signal for trouble.

A concerned United Nations is setting up a task force that will investigate effects of climate change on the Himalayan (and other similarly threatened) region. Climate change in regions like the Himalayas poses danger to nature and national and cultural heritage. The governments of member countries of the UN will be reminded of their legal obligations to cut greenhouse gas emissions, though with the world’s most powerful country taking a defiant attitude towards controlling gas emissions the success of the UN mandate may be doubted.

The international community, however, is greatly worried about preserving the ecology of the Himalayas. The Sagarmatah (Nepalese name for Everest) National Park in Nepal has been put on the world heritage danger list. The question of saving the Himalayas has become a matter of uttermost importance. And appropriately enough, some of the leading mountaineers, many of whom had made it to the highest peak in the world, are now actively associating themselves with save Himalayas campaign

The task is immense. Scaling Everest was once considered the most difficult climb. In the first 30 years since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay set foot on Everest, 150 climbers had achieved the mountaineers feat of pride: reaching Everest. In 2001, the same number of mountaineers (150) completed the Everest expedition over a period of three days. Since then there has been a big rush apparently.

Everest has now been “conquered” by about 2250 people and the number is multiplying fast. Today, it would appear the Himalayan climb has begun to resemble a “mela” (a Sanskrit word meaning ‘gathering’). Of the hundreds or thousands who attempt the Himalayan peaks every year many return after leaving their unused oxygen bottles, food packages and tents to make their descent lighter. But the Himalayas are not like a street cleaned by scavengers. Consider how the “mela” takes place.

Early this summer, 45 people had reached the Everest peak on one day. And some of them were not just scaling the highest peak; they were doing other things that brought them mention in record books. One mountaineering couple tied the nuptials knot on Everest. A helicopter pilot landed on the summit with his flying machine. There is always a competition these days on racing through the climb in less than a day; youngsters in their teens have been reaching the peak. Some of the more brash ones attempt to do the to- and fro-Everest run without the help of oxygen.

The Himalayas have become a big tourist magnet. Last year, nearly 400,000 visitors had arrived there. (The number may be less this year, not for lack of enthusiasm among people but because of the political uncertainty in Nepal). People pay up to $65000 for a guided “tour” of Everest. It is not uncommon to see the Base Camp for an Everest expedition crowded with 1000 people. To accommodate that number hundreds of tents are pitched, as are places for food and drink and other necessities. The garbage left after the consumption of items makes a small mountain of its own.

Luckily, the authorities in Nepal are quite alive to the problem posed by “Himalayan tourism”. The government allows an expedition only after it has paid a deposit, which is returned only after the team members have brought back their litter. Porters who accompany expeditions are offered incentives for filling their empty bags with mountain litter. People are now more conscious about garbage and try not to leave it on the Himalayas. A cleaner Himalayan area will perhaps bring more tourists who, after all, do contribute to the local economy. Tourism helps business and creates jobs; just what Nepal needs most.

The clean up efforts in the Himalayas are said to be making an impact. The Royal Nepalese government has been persuading climbers–with some success– to use metal containers and utensils which can be brought down rather than crushed and left as the plastic or glass ones are. But the “guilty” persons are actually the large number of Himalayan tourists, not the serious climbers. Clearly there can be no let up in maintaining vigilance against spreading garbage on the “roof” of the world for the sake of survival of over two billion people.


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