|May 16, 2019 -- Forty-nine-year-old Nepalese veteran Sherpa climber Kami Rita made history by summiting the world's highest peak, Mount Qomolangma, for a record 23rd time this morning.
Far from an ordinary sports activity, conquering the peak represents perseverance, courage and trailblazing spirit. It is a game of the bold.
It's also a trek that involves a lot of trash.
As they make their way up the mount, climbers leave behind a trail of rubbish such as tents, climbing equipment, bottles, cans, empty oxygen canisters, and human waste.
How messy is it on Mount Qomolangma
According to statistics published by The Economist in 2014, Mount Qomolangma is littered with 50 tons of garbage and more than 200 corpses. Melting glaciers then carry the excrement to villages in the lowlands, polluting the local water supply.
In 2018, CNN called it "the world's highest rubbish dump."
And the problem of human waste is yet to be addressed. In 2018, 28,000 pounds of human waste from the base camp was dumped at a nearby site, which led to a lot of pollution as well.
The commercialization of climbing makes things worse
For many decades, Mount Qomolangma was the province of only a handful of serious adventurers. The weight they brought along was bearable to the local ecosystem. However, starting in the early 1990s, with the addition of sherpas as guides, one of the ethnic groups native to the mountainous areas, commercial climbing took off.
More than 20,000 people from over 40 countries have climbed the mountain from the Tibet side over the past eight years, according to Chinese Mountaineering Association. Meanwhile, the base camp received more than 40,000 visitors in 2015.
The other side of the mountain in Nepal's Sagarmatha National Park is facing similar pressure as the visiting numbers rose from just 3,500 in 1973 to a record 45,000 in 2016-2017.
Climbing has become a lucrative local industry. It costs around 55,000 U.S. dollars for each person to climb from the Tibet side and between 40,000 to 100,000 U.S. dollars from Nepal's side, given its more amiable climbing conditions.
Among the millions of tourists coming to Nepal every year, 17 percent come for climbing and 43 percent cite other leisure activities related to mountain sight-seeing. The commercialization of climbing contributes to the country's GDP, and thus is further promoted by the government.
With climbing the world's tallest mountain not confined to professional climbers, many more amateurs have joined the feast, adding to the ecological pressure.
To conserve the environment surrounding Mount Qomolangma, Chinese authorities banned ordinary tourists from entering its core zone early this year. Meanwhile, only up to 300 climbing permits to access the summit from the Tibet side will be issued every year.
A new tent camp will be set up nearly two kilometers away from the original one. The site should allow for visibility of the mountain, said local authorities.
In addition to regulations, scientific approaches have also been adopted. A Chinese expedition company is planning to introduce "eco-friendly" toilets on Mount Qomolangma, 7,000 meters up the North Slope of the mountain.
The toilet will be equipped with a barrel fitted with rubbish bags underneath, making it easier to collect human waste. Even though it may sound shabby, having disposable bags can enormously help tackle the human waste problems on the mountain.
What can Mount Qomolangma learn from other popular peaks? "The mess on Everest and how to clean it up" published by The Economist mentions the ranger system at Denali, North America's highest peak.
Officials there do random checks at various camp sites and reprimand littering climbers. For this to work on Mount Qomolangma, local authorities can have sherpas function as rangers.
Local authorities could have all climbers bring back eight kilograms of rubbish on their way down or they have to forgo their deposit. According to the Economist, that only would remove 6.4 tonnes of litter every year.