Earlier this year, the government of Nepal issued a new requirement for climbers attempting to summit Mt. Everest. Under that new rule, all climbers would be required to not only pack out all of the trash that they generate while on the mountain, but also bring down an additional 8 kilograms (18 pounds) of waste leftover from past expeditions as well. This measure was meant to help clean up the mountain, and preserve it for future climbers to enjoy as well, but Outside magazine says it was actually just a ploy to help distract from the real issue – ongoing labor disputes with the Sherpas who do the bulk of the work on Himalayan peaks.
Contrary to what is typically reported about Everest, Outside says that there is not a trash problem on the mountain at all. The brief article does acknowledge that the dumping of waste, most notably human feces, into crevasses high on the mountain, is a growing problem. As the glaciers melt, and move down the South Face, it brings that human waste closer to Base Camp. It can also get into the shared drinking water, which makes it unsafe for human consumption. This is an issue that future expeditions will need to be aware of, but carrying extra trash off the mountain isn’t going to impact that problem.
Outside senior editor Grayson Schaffer, who has written extensively about the climbing seasons on Everest the past couple of years, says that these trash laws are just a way for the Nepalese government to distract from the ongoing issues it has with dealing with labor conflicts with the Sherpa staff. Those issues came to the forefront this spring when an avalanche killed 16 Sherpas working on the mountain, and set off a chain of events that eventually resulted in all of the climbing teams abandoning the South Side of the Everest. Since then, there have been some concessions made, with improvements in insurance benefits given, but tensions remain high in Nepal, and there are other disputes that remain unresolved.
The Outside article really doesn’t provide a lot of new insights into the problems that Nepal faces with the Sherpa teams on Everest. In fact, the article seems to exist to mostly remind us of the ongoing issues, and lingering resentments from the spring climbing season, perhaps to generate some extra traffic. Even the trash laws that they mention in the story are not new, as they were announced all the way back in March. At that point, there were already growing concerns about tensions amongst the Sherpas, but that tension hadn’t completely boiled over yet as it would in April following the tragic avalanche.
Personally, I believe that Nepal’s trash laws are in place to continue to clean up the mountain, and to create a more sustainable approach to protecting the environment on Everest. Those efforts are independent of the labor disputes that continue to be a challenge as well, and considering the high profile shutdown of climbing this past spring, there isn’t much that will distract from those clashes with the Sherpa leadership.
I expect that we have not seen the last of the problems on Everest. Even if there isn’t another tragedy like the one we saw this past spring, the Sherpas are becoming more organized and united in their request for better working conditions, compensation, and insurance. Hopefully any future conflicts can be resolved without shutting down the mountain, but there are still significant issues that need to be resolved before we’ll see any real progress made.
Many have implied that true progress won’t happen until some of the Nepalese officials are replaced. Corruption at the top is perhaps the biggest challenge yet to be overcome, and that could prove far more difficult of a challenge than dealing with trash on the world’s tallest mountain, or settling labor issues with the Sherpas. Only time will tell how that problem can be conquered.
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