The public perception of the world’s highest peak probably does not include the sobering sight of a caravan of yaks carrying down tonnes of trash stuffed in orange garbage bags to a village at the foot of the mountain.
Nevertheless, after decades of climbing Mount Everest, it is now littered with tent debris flapping in the wind, oxygen cylinders, batteries and other climbing gear strewn about, piles of frozen excrement, even the remains of dead climbers.
On Monday, the government of Nepal, which manages the more popular southern route to the mountain, said it would now require each climber who wants to scale Everest to bring back eight kilograms of rubbish in addition to his own litter.
The measure will be applied starting in April. Currently, climbers are already required to pay a $4,000 (U.S.) deposit that is reimbursed only if they show that they have brought down all their gear and supplies.
“Our earlier efforts have not been very effective. This time, if climbers don’t bring back garbage, we will take legal action and penalize them,” Madhusudan Burlakoti, the Tourism Joint Secretary of the Nepalese Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, told the Agence France-Presse news agency.
“It’s a good step,” said Canadian climber Horacio Galanti, a Grand Prairie, Alta., engineer who took part last year in an expedition that brought down 250 kilos of garbage from Everest’s mountainside.
He said the problem is mostly located at Camp 3, at 7,400 metres, where the icy covering makes it hard to remove the litter, and Camp 4, a windswept plateau at 8,000 metres where the absence of snow leaves the garbage in plain sight. At Camp 4, he saw, for example, about 150 discarded oxygen tanks, some very old and rusty, in models dating back decades.
Before stricter rules started being enforced in the past two decades, it was common for climbers to unburden themselves of any gear they no longer needed, he said.
Mr. Galanti wondered if the new requirement would add more burden on the sherpas since Everest is now crowded with inexperienced climbers who can barely make it on their own to Camp 3.
The move came after long discussions with Nepalese mountaineering operators, said Russell Brice, who runs Himalayan Experience Ltd., a high-end outfitter that offers Everest climbs.
“This is a new effort to streamline this process that did not really work very well and to set a certain amount that every team should bring down. … This works better as it also encourages to bring old rubbish down as well as current rubbish,” Mr. Brice said in an e-mail.
He said previous expeditions sometimes understated the amount of gear they were packing “so it was easy to bring back what was stated.”
Also, Mr. Brice said, the amount of rubbish had been decreasing until two years ago, when there was an influx of local operators.
Those operators did not charge as much and did not have the resources to carry their trash away, he said. “They left considerable rubbish behind. I think the revised rule will make it easier for everyone to help keep the mountain clean.”
Cleaning expeditions now regularly hit the mountain to haul down tonnes of garbage, even bringing down bodies and wreckage from an Italian helicopter that crashed in 1973.
At base camp, government liaison officers are supposed to be assigned to each expedition to make sure that it follows the rules.
However, American mountaineer Conrad Anker, who has reached Everest’s summit three times, said the system is not properly enforced. “You’re issued a permit, but there’s no oversight from the ministry.”
A small, poor, landlocked country, Nepal finds it hard to turn away visiting mountaineers, who constitute a major source of revenue, Mr. Anker said.
Last month, officials in Kathmandu slashed the Everest climbing fees for individual foreigners to $11,000 from $25,000 (U.S.), while at the same time abolishing group discounts.
Mr. Burlakoti said the new fees would make it easier to manage the influx of climbers. However, there were concerns that the move would make the mountain even more crowded.
Mr. Anker said the Nepalese government’s latest initiative is commendable, but he had doubts about how it could be implemented. “Who’s going to regulate the eight kilos? Are you going to pay a sherpa to carry it down for you?”
AFP reported that, under the new rules, Everest expeditions will have to take their trash to an office that will be set up next month at base camp.
The office will also offer medical aid and resolve conflicts, with soldiers and police on duty to avoid a repeat of the brawl between European climbers and local guides last year that shocked the mountaineering community, AFP said.