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Nepalese climber pushes for cleaner Everest

by Staff Writers
Kathmandu (AFP) June 25, 2008
A young mountaineer from Nepal has claimed a major breakthrough in his bid to promote eco-friendly climbing on Mount Everest, with his team reaching extraordinary heights of cleanliness.

Expedition leader Dawa Steven Sherpa has made it his mission to clean up the world's highest peak, and at the same revolutionise big mountain climbing by giving out some badly needed toilet training.

"Nobody set out to destroy the mountain, it's just a problem that slowly crept up," said Sherpa, just back in Kathmandu after his Eco Everest team took what could be the ultimate personal hygiene challenge.

The idea of the expedition, he said, was to leave nothing behind -- not even a yellowed pee-hole in the snow.

Decades of heavy-weight expeditions have badly soiled Everest, which is now littered with human excrement that cannot bio-degrade because of the icy temperatures, the corpses of unlucky adventurers and tonnes of garbage.

"When mountaineering started, there was only one expedition per year, so they didn't bother about their waste as they thought the impact was minimal. But as mountaineering got more popular, that same attitude continued," he said.

"People just threw their trash and human waste into crevasses."

The result, he lamented, is that the 8,848-metre (29,028-foot) sacred mountain is now dotted with unpleasant surprises.

"There are some examples of climbers who chopped off some ice to melt for water, only to find there was human excrement in it," said the 24-year-old.

"At one of the camps where I set up my tent, when the ice started to melt after a couple of weeks, we found we had pitched on a toilet tip. It does not really decompose because it's so cold and dry," Sherpa told AFP.

But last month Sherpa's team, made up of local support staff and 11 clients, tested Clean Mountain Cans -- essentially sturdy, small plastic barrels developed in the United States.

"When I told the expedition members, they were all for it. I was scared the Sherpas would not like it as nobody likes handling human waste, but in the event everyone was great and very proud to be part of the solution," said Sherpa.

The net result was 75 kilograms (165 pounds) less excrement and urine on the peak than there would have been otherwise.

And instead of the kerosene or cooking gas normally used at base camp, the expedition tested solar cookers that proved more than equal to the job.

"The parabolic solar heaters worked fantastically. They would melt and boil 10 litres (2.6 US gallons) of snow in 35 minutes, and we used it for cooking, making tea, washing dishes and having showers," said Sherpa.

"My Sherpas and climbers were the cleanest on the mountain!"

Support staff were also given bonuses for hauling down rubbish accumulated over the years -- including parts of a crashed helicopter, old ropes, tents, climbing gear and even the body of a climber who went missing in the 1970s.

"Sherpas go up there with big loads, and come down empty, so the idea was to offer any Sherpa or climber 70 cents per kilogram of old trash they brought down," he said.

Sherpa is optimistic that it is only a matter of time before such methods are universally adopted by the mountaineering community.

"These things have to be done to protect the mountain, and it's going to cost the industry very little compared to the longer term benefits of having a cleaner Everest."

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