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Tarnished Everest: Corpses and Canisters at the Roof of the World

Green Politics Assignment One Neil Palansky & Avi Forchheimer

Tarnished Everest: Corpses and Canisters at the Roof of the World

Mount Everest. The name alone has a connotation of mystery and achievement a dangerous icon, the top of the world. The allure of summiting Everest has drawn thousands of climbers, both professional and amateur, to the Mahalangur section of the Himalayas from all over the world. Some rightfully work their way onto the mountain years of climbing, training, and high altitude experience put a summit on Mount Everest at the pinnacle of their climbing careers. They get there on their own, they sustain themselves, and Mother Nature willing, they return to base camp alive.

Unfortunately, this is not the typical climber of modern day Everest. Adventure tourism companies run by professional high altitude climbers charge upwards of $65,000 dollars to guide amateur climbers, some with little or no climbing experience at all, to the tallest summit on earth (Millington, 2003). This paper will analyze the ecological footprint being left behind by these expeditions. We will see that the increased amount of human traffic in the region is causing visual and ecological pollution as well strong deforestation in a region already struggling with inadequate plant growth due to its high altitude.

With the exception of the most elite climbers on the planet, most people who attempt to summit Mount Everest use bottled oxygen. These oxygen containers are stored at various high altitude camps by the local Sherpa population for use by the climbers when they get to the higher portion of the mountain, where the level of Oxygen in the air is one third of

that at sea level. Due to the strenuous and life threatening nature of an Everest climb, these canisters are simply abandoned on the mountain after being emptied of Oxygen, and have begun to pile up considerably on the slopes (Stevens , 1993). There have been various initiatives enacted by the Nepalese government regarding financial compensation and heavy deposits placed on the oxygen containers, under the condition that every canister that goes up the mountain comes back down to be recycled (Stevens , 2003).

Additional detriment has been inflicted on the environment in the Kumbu region and to the mountain itself. The lack of Oxygen on the upper slopes of the mountain combined with faulty calculations in acclimatization time has left many climbers dead over the years. The corpses are simply too heavy to be carried down to the base camp single handedly by porters and are sadly left behind in plain sight of future climbers (Millington, 2003). Furthermore, the deceased climbers equipment, mostly composed of high tech materials which assure warmth for high altitude camps are also left behind. These materials are made to withstand the extreme cold and wind of one of the most hostile environments on the planet, and are thus highly synthetic, and remain on the mountain as well, unable to biodegrade in the atmosphere. Additionally, in a severe storm, climbers will abandon all but the most necessary items in order to seek safety on the lower parts of the mountain, leaving their tents and supplies to blow off of the mountain and into the Himalayan ecosystem (ibid).

Another major environmental problem is the increased deforestation. This has become another major issue in the lower and upper Everest Regions. There is an increased

amount of climbers, explorers and tourists not only wanting to reach the summit of Everest, but the trek from Kathmandu to Everest Base Camp have become very popular as well. (Pawson, Stanford, Adams & Nurbu, 1984). The lodges manned by the locals have increased demands of food to prepare, areas to heat and campfires to fuel. While the local authorities have banned expeditions from cutting down trees for firewood or other purposes, this still has not been put into effect on the local residents. The local lodge owners simply cut down trees and either sell them to expeditions for a hefty profit or use it to cook for and provide heat for their lodgers. Today the average lodge utilizes 4 times the amount of firewood than the traditional local Sherpa household thus effectively quadrupling their ecological foot print for fire wood alone. As a result, much of the high altitude forest, woodlands and alpine brush are beginning to diminish (Stevens , 2003). Furthermore, the high altitude lodges are placing further pressure on the low alpine regions as they are beginning to import firewood from the lower regions via porters in order to balance their deficit. Essentially, dense forest areas are now being heavily deforested due to increased tourism activities (ibid). The major stakeholders in the ecological preservation of the Everest Region are the Chinese Government, Nepalese Government, the Sherpa Community, the adventure companies and the climbers themselves. All these stakeholders have self interests that fail to comply and reach a feasible solution. The Chinese Government controls the North Face of the mountain, and is truly one of the most detrimental stakeholders in the pollution of Mount Everest. The Chinese government is notorious for charging much lower permit fees for climbing the North Face, as little as a quarter of the price that it costs a climber to obtain a permit from the

Nepalese side. This is done in an effort to bring as many climbers to the Chinese side as possible, with no regard for their detriment to the environment. The North Face of Mount Everest is more exposed, more dangerous, and technically more difficult to climb. However, due to the substantially less expensive permit fees, it attracts budget, bare bones tour operators and independent climbers who wouldnt be able to otherwise afford climbing the mountain from the Nepalese side, which enforces environmental regulations and Oxygen bottle deposits. The North Face of Everest is littered with more bodies, more spent oxygen containers, and more debris in general as the Chinese government wishes to administer as many permits as possible, with no regard for the environment they have even paved a road to base camp to make the mountain even easier to reach (Stevens, 1993). On the Nepalese side of the mountain resides the Sherpa Community. Traditionally, the Sherpa community was very respectful of the forest and adhered to a forest management system based on the Buddhist belief. Since Nepalese nationalization of the forest in 1957 under the Panchayat system, the local community began to feel alienated by the new set of rules and thus began disregarding their traditional respect for the forest. This disrespect for the forest has led the local Sherpa community to carelessly sell firewood to expeditions; in exchange for a hefty profit and a rebellious attitude to the Nepalese Government, they now disregard their traditional Buddhist customs and cause detrimental damage to the forest (Stevens, 1993). Other important stakeholders are the climbers and the expedition companies. Today, most climbers are required to leave behind a large cash deposit before climbing which is returned to them when the appropriate authorities are certain that they have removed all

their accumulated waste is removed from Nepal and sent back to their home countries. However, due to the risky altitude, the authorities can only verify trash that is brought back down to the base camp and have no real grasp of what is being left on the actual mountain due to its difficult height. The climbers and expedition companies therefore have the incentive to leave behind trash as not to incur expenses for extra porters and for their deposits that potentially wont be returned (Stevens, 2003). This revenue is extremely significant in an economy such as Nepal. Tourism, 90% of which is made up of trekkers in the Everest region, provides livelihoods for nearly the entire local Sherpa population which they earn by operating, managing and outfitting trekking and climbing trips (Stevens, 1993). It is not in the governments interest to limit the number of permits it issues, as this would cut down on both the governments revenue coming from the permits issuance, and the lost tourism dollars from Trekkers who would holiday elsewhere if they were unable to obtain access to the mountain and their interaction with the local authorities has been in decline since nationalization of their traditional territories.

Bibliography

Millington , A. (2003). Fifty years ago: the 'conquest' of mount everest. The Geographical Journal, 169(3), 282. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3451453

Pawson, I., Stanford, D., Adams, V., & Nurbu, M. (20019843). Growth of tourismin nepal's everest region: impact on the physical enviroment and structure human settlements. Mountain Research and Development, 4(3), 237 of 246.

Stevens , S. (1993). Tourism, change, and continuity in the mount everest region nepal. Geographical Review,83(4), 410-427. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/215823

Stevens , S. (2003). Tourism and deforestation in the mt everest region of nepal. Geographical Review,169(3), 255-277-427. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3451451