A veteran Nepalese Sherpa guide named Apa—who has climbed Mount Everest a record 20 times—is leading a team of mountaineers on a much needed expedition to clear away the tons of human debris left on the mountain over decades of climbing.
The world’s highest peak has been littered for years with used up oxygen bottles, tattered tents and sleeping bags, camping pots and pans, ropes and other remains of the thousands of people who attempt to reach its summit each year. Climbers in recent decades have recalled the disappointment they’ve felt upon making their first trip to the mountain only to see so much trash.
To combat the problem, in recent years the Nepalese government has made it mandatory for expeditions to bring down everything they bring up, and failure to do so would mean a loss of deposit—which can reach into the tens of thousands. Still, considering the mountain has been climbed on a consistently annual basis since the mid-eighties by many teams, there is still a lot of trash remaining from past years. This marks the fourth year a cleaning expedition has been carried out.
Now Apa and his team—which includes porters and guides from other expeditions—are planning on making several trips up and down the widely used Southeast Ridge route, which is the most popular and standard route to the summit, and therefore the most heavily trafficked. They hope to clear around 11,000 pounds (5,000 kilograms) of garbage—roughly 8,800 pounds from the lower part and another 2,200 between high camp at the South Col (25,938 ft) and the 29,035-foot summit. All trash will be carried down on the backs of the team members during the upcoming climbing season. For their efforts, the team will be paid 100 rupees ($1.40) for every kilogram they haul out.
Apa grew up in the foothills of Everest and began working as a Sherpa when he was 12, first reaching the summit in 1989, and just about every year since. He moved to a suburb of Salt Lake City in 2006, and has been campaigned vigorously about the degradation to the mountain due to not just human neglect, but global warming as well. He said he is carrying out this latest effort for the people of Nepal and for Everest itself.