Nepali on Mission to Clean World's Highest Peak
    2009-07-03 13:40:52     Xinhua      Web Editor: Yang Yang

When he first climbed the world's highest peak, Mt. Qomolangma (also known as Mt. Everest), in 2007, Nepali mountaineer Dawa Steven Sherpa was struck by how dirty the revered mountain had become.

"There were cans, oxygen cyclinders, rusting poles and human waste everywhere," the 25-year-old told Xinhua in Kathmandu Friday, "There were also bodies and body parts of climbers who had died on the way."

The sight made him decide to do something to save the mountain he has loved as a child and that provides the basis of his family business.

Sherpa, whose father Ang Tsering Sherpa runs the Asian Trekking Agency in Kathmandu, providing logistical support to mountaineering expeditions, began a unique expedition since 2008.

The Eco Everest Expedition, that was conducted this year too, has a dual purpose: It is meant to raise awareness about the adverse effect climatic changes are wreaking on the Himalayan peaks; also, every Eco Everest Expedition is bringing down some of the litter left on the mountain by earlier climbers so that the peak gets back its pristine glory again.

"Last year, we managed to bring down almost one ton of garbage, "Sherpa says, "This year, it has been more than six tons."

More than 150 Sherpas -- high-altitude guides and porters who accompanied his own expedition and others' -- helped him gather the refuse, attracted by his novel "Cash for Trash" project.

Sherpa is offering anyone who will bring down 100 kg of garbage littering any of the camps on Mt. Qomolangma a token payment of 100 Nepali rupees (some 1.25 U.S. dollars).

The first person to be enthused by the project was an American, Nicholas Cunningham, who this year was climbing Mt. Lhotse, the fourth highest peak in the world, which is just next to Mt. Qomolangma.

Cunningham decided to go out and find some garbage in the base camp area of Mt. Qomolangma and Mt. Lhotse.

"Watching the strange foreigner and Eco Everest Sherpas bring in garbage and getting paid for it started a wildfire," says Sherpa, "All of a sudden I had sacks and sacks of garbage coming into our camp."

During the spring climbing season this year, as long as the expeditions continued, Sherpa stayed in the base camp to drive the project.

"Every day at 4:00 p.m., it was weigh and pay time," he laughs, "We would get the scales ready and the garbage people brought in would be weighed and the money paid. I have jotted down the names of the people who brought the refuse, the amount they brought and the expeditions they were with so that we have complete records."

This year alone, Sherpa had to hand out Nepali 900,000 Nepali rupees (some 11,250 U.S. dollars) for the garbage brought to him. But the result was spectacular.

"There is no litter in the base camp," he says, "It is clean till Camp II. Next year, we will try to clean the higher camps."

Besides the clean-up, Sherpa's expedition this year also did something moving. They gave a dignified burial to a British climber who had died in an icefall more than 30 years ago.

Tony Tighe was part of the Mt. Qomolangma expedition led by British climbing legend Sir Chris Bonnington in 1972. He died in the Khmbu Icefall and for years, his body had been lying there with the elements gradually decomposing the parts below the waist. 

"My head Sherpa Pertemba had been part of the 1972 expedition," Sherpa says, "He recognized the dead climber from his harness and jacket, carried him out of the icefall and gave him a loving burial. Then we informed Tighe's family."

This year, Sherpa's expedition was also a worldwide success because a member of it, Apa Sherpa, summited the 8844.43 m peak for the 19th time, breaking his own record last year for the maximum conquests of Mt. Qomolangma.

Sherpa is planning to lead Eco Everest Expedition III next year. This year, his father's trekking agency and climbing gear manufacturers The North Face made his expedition possible. He hopes to generate more interest and funds next year and in the years after that.

"I want to continue till all the garbage on Mt. Everest is removed," he says.

What will he do with all that accumulated trash?

The enterprising entrepreneur is planning to hold art workshops where the Everest trash will be recycled into unusual sculptures that will then be displayed in Nepal's villages for the people to realize how their activities affect the mountains and how they can help protect them.


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