Poo bags and GPS trackers among new plans to tackle over-tourism on Everest

Once upon a time, climbing Mount Everest – known as Sagarmatha to the Sherpa people of Nepal – was an activity reserved for the world’s best mountaineers. In the ten years since the first ascent in 1953, only 13 people have reached the summit of the world’s highest mountain.

Times change. During the 2023 climbing season, more than 600 climbers have claimed the summit of Everest, many of them keen amateurs paying over $55,000 (£44,000) to be guided to the top by expert mountaineers, porters and Sherpa guides. Tragically, the 2023 season also claimed the lives of at least 17 climbers.

Photos of traffic jams in the “death zone” above 8,000 meters and mounds of rubbish at Everest Base Camp have pushed over-tourism on the mountain into the headlines, prompting many to question, as teams attempt to summit the mountain this spring, climbing Everest. still sustainable, or even ethical?

In response, the Nepalese government launched a new set of regulations for climbers in 2024, designed to improve safety and reduce the mountains of debris that have grown from Everest’s summit.

This season, as part of the Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural Municipality Base Camp Management Procedure, the size of climbing groups will be limited to 15 people and all climbers will be required to carry emergency tracking devices.

The new rules also require treks to use dedicated shared toilet tents, and anyone going higher than Everest Base Camp will have to carry their bodily waste down the mountain in a pouch bag and at least eight kilograms (almost 18lb ) of littering at the end of their journey.

It’s an ambitious move for a mountain that brings in $4.9 million (£3.9 million) in direct revenue from climbing permits each year, but will the new rules Seriously solve Everest’s problems and will they be implemented? Opinions are shared.

Debris mount Everest 1993

Everest climbing expeditions deposit more than eight tonnes of human waste, pictured here in 1993 – AFP

“GPS trackers are a step in the right direction,” said Billi Bierling of the Himalayan Database, the organization that keeps records of summit attempts. “It’s definitely better not to have them, because clients and Sherpas can be found quickly, especially if something happens in the Khumbu Ice.

“But the best way to make Everest safer is to have more capable climbers on the mountain. Every season there is talk of requiring climbers to have previous mountaineering experience, but for some reason it hasn’t materialized yet.”

However, the introduction of Waste Mitigation Gel (WAG) bags for human waste is a step forward. According to a campaign by Nepalese environmentalist Dawa Steven Sherpa in 2019, climbing expeditions deposit more than 8 tons of human waste on the slopes of Everest every year.

“The Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC) will provide each climber with a bag containing a chemical powder that consolidates human waste and makes it odorless,” explains Nima Nuru Sherpa, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association. “This is the first time such a rule has been implemented and it will be replicated in other mountains in Nepal.”

The problem of equipment and litter left behind on climbing trips may be more difficult to deal with. “The trash seen in many mountain systems has taken decades to accumulate, and it will take time and effort at all levels to remove it,” says Nepalese mountaineer Nirmal “Nimsdai” Purja, who led trash recovery teams to Everest, K2. and Manaslu as part of the Great Mountain Cleanup campaign.

According to British mountaineer Kenton Cool, who is currently on the mountain, the authorities must do more to ensure that people understand the responsibilities of climbing in the Himalayas. “The biggest change needed is education, both for climbers and Sherpas,” he says. “People don’t always know how to behave in the mountains.

“The Nepali ministry has its heart in the right place, but solving the problems on Everest is not just about announcing rules, but making sure they are understood and followed. A WAG bag is an honorable thought, but no one seems to be checking. We carried ours a few days ago, and the staff at the SPCC checkpoint didn’t know what to do with them.”

Kenton CoolKenton Cool

People don’t always know how to behave in the mountains, says British climber Kenton Cool – Kenton Cool

Communication is a big part of the problem, agrees Austrian climber Lukas Furtenbach. “The specific regulations from the Khumbu authority were only announced to Nepali operators; foreign operators got the news from local partners, rumors and the media.”

To add to the difficulties, the Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural Municipality has already canceled some of the new rules, including a proposed ban on helicopters carrying supplies to Base Camp (this is now allowed, but only with official permission ).

Sherpas have their own concerns about the new regulations. “These rules were announced suddenly and unexpectedly, not long before the start of the mountaineering season, and this will have a significant impact on our operating costs,” warns climbing guide Lhakpa Tsheri Sherpa.

Climbers in EverestClimbers in Everest

Sherpas are concerned that the new rules will affect operating costs – Gamma-Rapho

“While some think the new rules will create more employment for local porters and herders by allowing fewer helicopters to transport goods and materials directly to Base Camp, others feel the new rules will make Everest expeditions even more expensive , which may result. a downturn in business.”

Climbers aren’t the only ones affected by the changes. More than 90 percent of the 57,690 visitors to Sagarmatha National Park in 2023 were backpackers, bookending their walks with hot teas, freshly baked cakes and sometimes even luxury spa treatments in the climbers’ village at Everest Base Camp .

Starting this year, business ventures will be banned at Base Camp, which could mean the end of the camp’s bakery and high-altitude massage tents. In the future, climbing Everest may be safer and cleaner, but it will also be tougher – for better or worse.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *