The highest camp on Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, is facing a major clean-up operation that will take years to complete. A team of soldiers and Sherpas funded by the Nepal government recently removed 11 tons of garbage, four dead bodies, and a skeleton from Everest during this year’s climbing season. However, according to Ang Babu Sherpa, who led the team, there could still be as much as 40 to 50 tons of garbage left at South Col, the final camp before reaching the summit.

The garbage left behind includes old tents, food packaging, gas cartridges, oxygen bottles, tent packs, and climbing ropes, all frozen at the 8000-meter altitude of the South Col camp. Most of this waste dates back to older expeditions, highlighting the long-standing issue of climbers leaving behind trash on the mountain.

While recent measures such as requiring climbers to bring back their garbage or forfeit their deposits have helped reduce the amount of waste left behind, the cleanup efforts are still challenging. The team faced harsh weather conditions, low oxygen levels, and the difficulty of digging out frozen garbage from the ice. In some cases, it took days to recover bodies buried in the ice, with one body frozen in a standing position at the South Col.

The bodies and garbage collected were transported to Kathmandu for identification and recycling. The recyclable waste was sorted at a facility operated by Agni Ventures, with some items dating as far back as 1957, such as rechargeable batteries for torch lights. The decomposable items were taken to nearby villages, while the rest were transported by porters, yaks, and trucks to Kathmandu for recycling.

The challenging conditions faced by climbers at high altitudes contribute to the issue of waste being left behind. With a focus on survival, climbers and their helpers often prioritize their own safety over environmental concerns. However, efforts to increase awareness among climbers and enforce regulations regarding waste disposal are crucial in addressing the ongoing problem of garbage accumulation on Mount Everest.