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Everest expedition hopes to conquer summit and trash

From a distance, Mount Everest still looks pristine  

March 31, 2000
Web posted at: 12:48 a.m. EST (0548 GMT)

Mount Everest holds the dubious honor of being the world's highest garbage dump. As another climbing season in the Himalayas nears, sponsors are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund expeditions to bring down the trash that other expeditions have left behind.

"That phrase was said 37 years ago by Barry Bishop. What he called the world's highest garbage dump is nothing compared to the way (Everest) is now," said Chris Naumann, a team member of the 1994 Sagarmatha Environmental Expedition, the first cleanup crew to haul trash from Mount Everest's higher camps.


How tall is Mt. Everest?

A. 27,995 feet
B. 29,028 feet
C. 35,215 feet

"It's a really pristine place and any garbage up there is seen as an atrocity because someone had to haul it up there. It didn't get up there by itself," said Gordon Janow of Alpine Ascents International, an outfitter that guides climbers up Everest once a year.

This season, 50 teams will attempt to reach the summit of the 29,035-foot peak, the tallest in the world. Among them is the Inventa Everest 2000 Environmental Expedition, a self-guided expedition whose aim is to finish the job of cleaning up Everest's Southeast Ridge.

The Southeast Ridge is most popular route to the top of Everest. Five camps dot the route, and each has become a dump for trash and discarded climbing supplies.

Inventa, an e-Commerce professional services firm in California, paid $300,000 to be, in the company's words, a "golden benefactor" of the cleanup effort.

"Although the size of our investment is significant for a growing company like Inventa, we believe this is the right thing to do," said Toby Younis, vice president of marketing at Inventa. "We think the expedition is a noble effort. We like the cultural fit between Inventa and the team, and it gives us a great theme to leverage our marketing programs: 'Working together, we achieve peak performance.' "

The Inventa expedition follows in the footsteps of many cleanup efforts on the mountain, including the Sagarmatha climb and the 1992 Everest International Expedition.

In 1995, another Sagarmatha expedition removed more than 1,400 pounds of waste left by previous expeditions. The discards included more than 140 oxygen bottles, 200 batteries and 100 fuel canisters along with hundreds of pounds of trash.

In 1995, the Sagarmatha expedition removed more than 1,400 pounds of waste left by previous expeditions  

In 1998, the Everest Environmental Expedition removed more than 2,200 pounds of trash and developed a system to treat and remove human waste from Everest Base Camp and Camp II.

Inventa's mission is "two-fold," according to team member Robert Chang. "In addition to climbing the highest peak in the world, we will make a significant cleanup of a major environment sore spot in what should be one of the most pristine places on Earth. We hope to return this unique global treasure at the roof of the world back to its original condition in time for the 50th anniversary of the first ascent in 1953."

Janow wonders if there is another side to Inventa's ambition. "Is their goal to get to the top, or is their goal to clean up the mountain?" he said.

"If it's an environmental expedition, it seems to me the primary goal should be to clean up what's on Everest like the tent parts, oxygen bottles and other trash," said Janow. "It gets to be misleading when you run the whole media gamut."

He noted that in one Everest climbing season, all of the permits issued to climb the mountain were for so-called "environmental" expeditions.

Naumann believes the media-hyped, big-budget cleanup expeditions are a waste of money for corporations. "These people who use the environment as a fund-raiser, I would tell them (sponsors) that when they go over there they're doing what's happening anyway. I haven't heard of anything new being done, but lots of money is being dumped for these expeditions," he said.

Naumann has gathered statistics on the volume of trash brought down from Everest through the Sherpa incentive program that SEE initiated in 1994. Sherpas, climbers from local Himalayan villages, are paid to carry gear and assist expeditions. The incentive program pays them to remove oxygen bottles and other trash from the mountain after the climbers have carried their loads to camp.

Naumann believes a change in expectations rather than attitude has spread through the climbing community and that most climbing teams are carrying out at least what they take up the mountain.

To encourage this principle, Nepal's government now requires each expedition team to deposit $4,000 before it sets out for Everest. The deposit isn't returned to the climbers unless all of their trash is removed from the mountain.

"The cleanup should continue by teams who are going to Everest to climb anyway," said Naumann. "The amount of trash brought down though the incentive program came down without any teams being sponsored. People's intentions should be in the right place. Environmental issues have become the popular media draw. But with all the money spent, I doubt any more progress is being made."

"For many climbers, Everest is usually a one-time deal," said Janow. "You're struggling to get to the summit, keep healthy and stay safe. You're just trying to hang in there. There seems to be a shift in priorities depending on your own condition and your own physical health. Cleaning up after yourself falls by the wayside.

"Here's the interesting part. The people who go to Everest on a regular basis, like the commercial expeditions that go back and forth each year, while some don't like the commercial outfitters, one benefit is that when they go, they know they're going back the next year. So they're less likely to leave their trash because they're camping there next year."

Alpine Ascents has always carried down more than the group has carried up, Janow added.

"Part of bringing yourself down is bringing down everything you take with you," he said. "I think the desire is there. Americans are at the forefront of trying to leave an environment as they found it."

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

Paying the price of climbing to the top of the world
March 20, 2000
King of the hill: Japanese climber breaks world record
September 20, 1999
Famed Everest climber's body found, 75 years later
May 2, 1999

On Top of the World-Cleaning up a legacy of high-altitude trash
Jim Whittaker: Reaching life's summit the hard way
Sir Edmund speaks out
Himalayas formed 15 million years later than thought

Inventa Everest 2000 Environmental Expedtition
Verde: Behind the scenes on Everest
Alpine Ascents International
Sagarmatha Environmental Expedition

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