Sherpas upset by Nepal's plan to collect trash – and bodies – on Everest

By Audrey McNamara

/ CBS News

Climber describes scene in Everest death zone

Some top Sherpa guides are criticizing the Nepal government's plan to have the army clean up 77,000 pounds of waste on Mount Everest, BBC Nepali reports. They say the army cannot reach the highest peaks of the Himalayas – that it's something only they can do.

"They collected garbage from lower altitudes," said Kami Rita Sherpa, who has reached Mount Everest's summit a record number of times. "They should mobilize Sherpas to clean up garbage from higher elevations."

"Only Sherpa guides and porters can do that," he said. "They should be given proper compensation to clean up the mountains."

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Using the army for the task will cost a total of 860 million Nepali rupees – about $7.5 million, according to the government, BBC reports.

"Climbing Sherpas are the right people to clean up the peaks," Purba Tashi Sherpa, who has scaled Mount Everest 21 times, told the BBC. "The government should keep that in mind."

Every year people come from across the globe to climb the world's highest peak. The treacherous ascent has become so popular that the mountain has been plagued by dangerous – and deadly – overcrowding. Pictures taken near the peak last year show long lines of climbers waiting to reach the summit, in an area with extreme conditions and low oxygen that's known as the "death zone."

Jim Davidson, a veteran high-altitude mountain climber, explained the experience to "CBS This Morning" last year: "We're up in the 'death zone' at 26,000 feet, so even on bottled oxygen, you're slowly dying. … It gets very difficult to be up there, just to exist."

APTOPIX Everest Death
In this photo made on May 22, 2019, a long queue of mountain climbers line a path on Mount Everest. Nirmal Purja/AP

The crowded conditions have resulted in more trash, and more bodies, being left behind at higher altitudes. And the bodies need to be brought down in the mountain cleanup, BBC Nepali reported.

Nine people died on Everest in just over a week last year — more than all deaths the year before.

The descent — when most climbers perish — is so difficult that any extra burden, like oxygen and cooking gas cylinders, or climbing gear, is left behind on the mountain. Climbers are also forced to leave behind the bodies of their fellow climbers. In some cases, bodies and trash have been left in the snow and ice for decades.

"It's really hard to bring back heavy cylinders or dead bodies from the higher camps," Ang Tshering Sherpa, the former president of Nepal Mountaineering Association, told BBC Nepali. "Sherpa often risk their lives to do so. Most of the iced bodies weigh as much as 150kg (330 lbs), and that looks impossible for Sherpas to bring down."

Nepali Army spokesman Bigyan Dev Pandey told the BBC he is confident his team will be able to reach the upper areas during this year's clean up, which ends on June 5.

He told BBC Nepali the army is learning from their mistakes, "and working hard to clean up the mountains, including the higher elevations."

First published on February 14, 2020 / 11:13 AM

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