Don’t feel bad about not being a hotshit mountain climber: apparently Everest explorers have been leaving behind supplies and “pyramids of human excrement” for decades. In order to combat Trash Mountain Syndrome, Nepal announced this week that anyone who wishes to prove themselves on the deadly slope must now pay for their adventure in garbage.
According to National Geographic, at least ten tons of garbage is “leaking out of the glaciers” on the famous peak. Nepal is attempting to clean this accrued mess in small increments, by requiring every mountaineer to bring back their own trash in addition to 17.6 pounds of “garbage tax”–feces, discarded supplies or even decaying corpses that they find during their climb.
Climbers who survive their journey will be sent to a government office at Base Camp to have their garbage weighed. No word yet on what the punishment will be for mountaineers who fail to meet their quota, although Nepal’s tourism ministry official Madhusudan Burlakoti promises to “take legal action against them,” possibly by assigning offenders something extra on the chore wheel next week.
The official Nepalese policy has always been that climbers are responsible for cleaning up after themselves–a philosophy that doesn’t work in my sink, let alone in one of the world’s most hostile environments. Given the impossibility of enforcement and many mountaineers’ difficulty in even bringing themselves back alive, high-altitude litterbugs have been impossible to avoid. Says Gizmodo:
The fact that littering is so interwoven with survival is part of the problem—if it’s a choice between spending your last bit of energy to haul your empty oxygen tanks down the mountain and actually getting down safely, it’s hard to argue with climbers who chose the latter.
The tax isn’t Nepal’s first attempt to clean up Garbage Mountain. A joint Nepalese and Indian team left a passive-aggressive note about cleaning and brought back an impressive 13 tons of garbage over the past five years, but an estimated 10 tons is still sullying the mountain’s peaks–2.5 tons of which is likely biohazardous.
Obviously, strictly reinforcing that mountaineers must return with their own supplies in addition to the added weight of their garbage tax means that the physical requirements of ascending Everest have increased.
An estimated 240 corpses have been left on the mountain over the last fifty years alone–it’s hard to believe that even the most well-intentioned mountaineer would risk joining those ranks just to comply with the new law.
However, maybe the impact that the enormous mess has on Everest’s mystique will encourage mountaineers to at least reduce the amount of expendable supplies they carry. After all, the maid is off today, and “climbing Everest” sounds a little less impressive when you consider that just means wading through trash.