The Nepali Army Is Removing Trash and Bodies From Mount Everest

They expect to haul off ten metric tons of garbage and up to five bodies from the world’s tallest peak

Men in red coats picking up trash
Climbers collect garbage from Mount Everest in 2020. In recent years, officials have implemented new regulations to help reduce trash on the mountain. He Penglei / China News Service via Getty Images

Every spring, hundreds of mountaineers from around the world travel to the Himalayas in hopes of summiting Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain. As they make the slow, arduous and sometimes fatal journey to the summit, they leave behind garbage, gear and human waste.

Authorities have recently implemented new rules to help curb Everest’s trash problem. But in the meantime, the 29,032-foot-tall peak remains littered with debris.

This week, Nepali troops are launching their annual cleanup on the mountain. On Sunday, 12 members of the Nepali military were slated to arrive at Everest Base Camp for this year’s Mountain Cleanup Campaign, an initiative launched in partnership with Unilever in 2019, reports CNN’s Lilit Marcus.

They’ll be supported by 18 sherpas as they remove an estimated ten metric tons of garbage and debris from Mount Everest, as well as nearby peaks Mount Lhotse and Mount Nuptse, according to the Himalayan Times’ Rastriya Samachar Samiti.

They will also attempt to bring down the bodies of five climbers who died while ascending or descending Everest. Last year was one of the deadliest seasons on record: Twelve mountaineers died, while another five who went missing are presumed dead.

More than 300 climbers have died attempting to summit Everest since exploration began there in the early 20th century. Some get caught in avalanches or fall into crevasses, while others suffer from fatal medical conditions like frostbite or high-altitude cerebral edema, a condition that causes brain swelling.

Experts say human-caused climate change was at least partially responsible for last year’s high death toll.

“The main cause is the changing in the weather,” said Yuba Raj Khatiwada, director of Nepal’s tourism department, to the Guardian’s Hannah Ellis-Petersen in May 2023. “This season the weather conditions were not favorable; it was very variable. Climate change is having a big impact in the mountains.”

Last year, Nepal’s government issued over 450 permits to mountaineers who wanted to summit Everest. Each permit costs thousands of dollars—on top of the large sums mountaineers often pay to guide companies.

Some critics have argued that the government is issuing too many permits. They’ve also called out low-cost guiding companies for taking on inexperienced clients and focusing too little on climber safety.

“People with little or no experience who book under-resourced expeditions are exposing themselves to huge risks,” Caroline Pemberton, co-owner of Climbing the Seven Summits, told Outside magazine’s Alan Arnette last year.

This year’s Everest season will begin soon. For a brief period in the spring, the fierce winds that blow at the top of the mountain sometimes die down enough to allow climbers to reach the summit safely.

“Mount Everest protrudes into the stratosphere, and most of the year the summit is buffeted by winds of over 100 miles per hour that will kill a climber in minutes or even hurtle them into the void,” John All, a geographer at Western Kentucky University who summited Everest in 2010, told Popular Mechanics’ Rob Goodier in 2012. “It is only during the onset or [cessation] of the Asian Monsoon that these winds die down and allow climbers short seven- to ten-day windows to climb the mountain.”

In recent years, authorities have announced new regulations intended to improve safety and reduce trash on Everest. All mountaineers are required to rent and wear an electronic tracking device, collect and carry their own waste back to base camp and pay an expensive trash deposit. They only get the deposit back if they return with at least 8 kilograms (around 18 pounds) of garbage.

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