COVID-19 rest to mountain, a conducive period for clean up

Eak Raj Bastola

March 21, 2020


COVID-19 rest to mountain, a conducive period for clean up

A mountaineer collects trash from Mt Everest. (File photo/Khabarhub)


KATHMANDU: Owing to the mounting pressure created by the all spreading COVID-19, the government of Nepal decided to close all peaks including Everest this climbing season.

Keeping up with the saying ‘make hay while the sun shines’, the mountain lovers are suggesting the fellow mountaineers and the government to utilize the closure for ‘clean-up’ activities in the mountains.

The government decision to halt all climbing activities of the season in view of the possible outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has greatly worried all the entrepreneurs, including expedition operators, and workers as their livelihood is sure to be impacted directly by it.

The Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Yogesh Bhattarai made the declaration related with the suspension of all expeditions to the peaks this season on March 13.

The government has allowed climbers to attempt 414 peaks. In spring season last year, royalty generated by granting the permit for mountaineering was around 496.55 million rupees.

The suspension of expeditions in Nepal will affect hundreds of foreign climbers now preparing for the spring season, a window or relatively good weather between the end of the bitterly cold winter and the rainy season, which begins in June.

Nearly 60 percent people are believed to have direct or indirect connection with tourism industry. “More than 60 percent Nepalis are directly and indirectly connected to tourism industry,” mountaineer Mingma Dorchi Sherpa said while speaking to Khabarhub.

But, we can change this halt into opportunity. Many mountaineers have been raising the voice to give rest for Mt Everest and to clean the mountains to preserve it for future.

Yes, this might be the best time to clean-up the garbage in the mountains that have been piled since many decades.

Mingma, however, is worried about the difficulties in climbing Everest in recent times. “In fact, climbing Everest has become tougher due to global warming,” he said adding, “The Khumbu Icefall is melting faster due to global warming.” Mingma David Sherpa said. “So, it’s a good time to clean-up Mt Everest.”

Doma Sherpa, Everest summiteer and a journalist by profession regrets that Mt Everest, at times, looks like a trash bin. She opines that all stakeholders including the government, mountaineers, traders and the locals need to take initiatives to make it clean and preserve its beauty. She holds the opinion that liaison officers should check the stuff being taken to the summit and verify it while climbing down to control garbage.

During the expedition above Camp III, Everest summiteer Nima Doma saw human fossils, and a pile of garbage spoiling the beauty of the Himalayas.

Similarly, Jangbu Sherpa, who has successfully climbed Mt Everest 16 times, has welcomed the idea of cleaning Peaks including Mt Everest. He said to Khabarhub, “It is wise to clean Everest as there are no climbers in the Everest area in this season.”

He is delighted that such cleans not only tidy the mountain peaks but sustain the lives of the locals and the Sherpas who though not as climbers but as cleaners get employment through the campaign. He hopes a good collaboration from the Sherpas as they revere the Himalayas as their god, and are always delighted to maintain sanctity in those areas.

It needs more than a month to clean up it properly.

“The financial loss caused by COVID-19 can be recovered, but the damage caused by the pollution is irreparable,” Sherpa spoke gazing at the sky.

“Hence, together with Mt Everest, we must clean other mountains like, Annapurna I, Dhaulagiri, Manaslu, Ama Dablam, Island Peak and others which have enormous climbers each year.

According to the Department of Tourism, a total of 1,005 high altitude workers, guides and Sardars, excluding the local porters and supporting staff involved in expeditions, were engaged in expedition works in the spring of 2019.

Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) has proposed to clean up mountains during the suspension of climbing mountains.

NMA’s president Santa Bir Lama has proposed the government to clean up the mountains including Mt Everest hailing this time most suitable for the deed.

“It is the best time to clean up garbage that has piled on Nepal’s mountain,” Lama said, “If we begin the clean-up campaign, it will give a positive message to all mountain lovers of the world.”

But, Everest summiteer Pemba Dorjey Sherpa was skeptical about the outcome of such campaigns. Speaking to Khabarhub he said, “Millions of rupees is collected for Everest cleaning campaign, but there is no substantive improvement in sanitation and in overall mountain environment here.”

“It hurts me when they claim of collecting tons of garbage than they actually did and what is more shocking is the fact that mainstream media publish the same fudged data of inflated tonnage of garbage collection,” Pemba Dorjey added.

However, making the best of corona-induced pause, it is a good opportunity to give a rest to Mt Everest by not exposing or showcasing it to visitors or tourists.

This is a much better way of lamenting for the lost mountain ecosystem to improve if not restore it completely.

“With the help of locals, experts and other stakeholders of mountaineering the government should start the Everest cleanup campaign two months before the climbing season starts,” he suggested further.

Sadly, the existing regulations about the cleaning of the Himalayan region are not as effective as they are not strictly enforced.

For example, six years ago, Nepal made the proclamation that the 4000 dollars rubbish deposit per team would be refunded provided the climbers brought down at least 8 kg or 18 pounds of waste.

Regarding the decree as means of money-making, many irresponsible climbers opted to forfeit the deposit rather than fulfilling their responsibility, whereas, on the Tibetan side of the Himalayan region, the same provision enforced differently is working effectively. There, on the Tibetan side, one is required to bring down 8 KG and failure to do so results in $100 per kilo as fine.