China Launches an Everest Cleanup

by R. J. Forman

Alright, China, this time you get a “Tip of the Hat.”

This week, China announced the launch of a cleanup for Mount Everest next year: the country will be sweeping up 50 years of climbing garbage scattered along the north side of the world's tallest mountain.

The over-climbed route along the north face is littered with oxygen canisters, tents, backpacks and other climbing gear cast off in quests to reach the summit.

China is moving to clean it up in a special trash collection campaign.

Chinese officials say they want to protect the fragile Himalayan environment.

This may be a crock of discarded climbing gear and really nothing other than a distraction from China’s otherwise gross neglect of environmental concerns. However, this is a step in the right direction.

China's Xinhua News Agency reports that Zhang Yongze, Tibet’s environmental protection chief said “Our target is to keep even more people from abusing Mount Everest.”

The peak lies on the border between China and Nepal and climbing revenue provides a great source of income for both countries.

Last year, more than 40,000 people visited the mountain from occupied Tibet. The cleaning effort may decrease the number of people allowed to climb for in 2009. However, the overcrowding of the mountain as well as the debris scattered across its climbing route have also been the cause of problems for expeditions.

Environmentalists estimate climbers from last year alone could have left behind as much as 120 tons of garbage — about six pounds per tourist. The total amount of trash left since Edmund Hillary first climbed the summit in May of 1953 is unknown.

The Nepalese government requires climbers and their guides to carry out gear and trash or they must forfeit a $4,000 deposit. China has no similar rule but has enacted other restrictions like forbidding vehicles from driving directly to the Everest base camp. This is despite the fact that China and the world stage that is the Olympics are the reasons for the highway on the east side of Everest to the base camp.

So this is one pretty good step, China. Let’s see you make a few more.

(Photo by Steve Evans via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)

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