The COVID-19 pandemic has made life difficult just about everywhere, bring the world to a standstill at times and raising awareness of our own fragile health. It has been difficult to find a silver lining over the past few months, as we all stay close home, don our masks in public, and avoid interaction with too many other people. But occasionally there is some good news that comes from the global lockdown as we look to take advantage of these unprecedented times in any way that we can.
No where is this more evident than in Nepal, where the country closed its borders in the spring and is still waiting to reopen them. That meant a shutdown of the lucrative climbing and trekking season, with the tourism industry there taking a major hit that will likely have economic fallout for months and years to come. But the lack of foreign visitors has also allowed Nepal to concentrate on cleaning up one of its most valuable natural resources — Mt. Everest.
For years we’ve been seeing stories about how Everest has become the world’s highest trash heap. Years of expeditions to the mountain have left Base Camp and some of the high camps in particularly bad shape, with refuse and human waste left behind by thousands of climbers. But in recent years there has been a concerted effort to remove much of the garbage from the mountain. Additionally, significant measures have been taken to reduce the impact of current and future expeditions to the peak as well, meaning that Everest is slowly, but surely, returning to its more natural state.
This spring, with no one on the mountain, the high altitude clean-up teams were hard at work collecting trash, discarded gear, depleted oxygen bottles, and other items. As a result, it was the most prosperous environmental improvement campaign yet, setting a world record for such endeavors. 14 Sherpas ended up spending a full month on the mountain, removing 10,386 kg (22,897 pounds) of waste. Of that, 5700 kg (12,560 pounds) was recycled, making major inroad for tidying up the world’s tallest mountain.
Climbers are expected to return to Everest in droves next spring, likely brining plenty of trash with them. But with rules in place about the removable of garbage, and ongoing efforts to clean up the leftover junk from the past, it feels like things are definitely getting better there. Hopefully this is a trend that will continue, even after the coronavirus lockdown has come and gone.