The Mountaineer's Responsibility


THE EDITOR SENT OUT over a hundred questionnaires to climbing and trekking parties to the Himalaya during 1994 and 1995. The questions related to garbage, abandoned equipment and toilets. Twenty-two replies were received. This article analyses these replies.

The replies do not give anything like a full picture of the situation. There are hundreds of expeditions that go to the Himalaya every year, so 22 responses can hardly provide a representative picture. And it was mainly well organised expeditions to major peaks that bothered to reply; there was practically no response from the scores of trekking expeditions. It may also be assumed that only those concerned about the environment took the trouble to reply; those who mistreat it did not.

Nevertheless, it's a beginning. Big oak trees from little acorns grow, and so forth. Our sincere thanks to those who answered, and particularly to the National Officer of the British Mountaineering Council who wrote, 'I am absolutely certain that it will prove beneficial to gather these details about all expeditions. It will certainly help to identify good practice so that future generations can enjoy the mountain enviromnent in its natural and wild state.' Amen.

In addition to the replies, we had a thought-provoking contribution from the well-known naturalist Lavkumar Khachar, and I have given extracts. It is also encouraging that at least three of the articles in H.J. Vol. 51-1995 give specific accounts of how they dealt with these problems; they also reported on efforts they made - and saw others making - to clean up rubbish left by previous visitors.

By way of preface, I should recall that here we are dealing with down-to-earth problems of garbage, left-over equipment and human waste since these are within the purview of the mountaineer. We are not dealing with the larger problems of over-populations, overgrazing, deforestation, erosion, earthquakes, landslides and glacial lake outbursts.

A. Your Experience and Actions

1. Disposal of Garbage

Most expeditions reported that garbage had been burnt or buried at base camp or at camps on the way; in some cases it was carried down to a village lower down for incineration or disposal.

The Japanese on Siniolchu, 1994, used kerosene to burn garbage. The Japanese on Gyaji Kang, Nepal, 1994, found that burning offended the 'Lamanists'; they gave their bottles to the local people in Phugaun. The British-French expedition to Everest, 1994, carried garbage back to Namche Bazar to be incinerated. The Women's Wyoming expedition to Baruntse burnt some and packed out the rest to the Tashigaon dump.

Roger Payne, in 'A Mighty Longing', H. J. 51-1995, writing of their expedition to Nanda Devi East, (he had also filled in a questionnaire) said they burnt and buried all their garbage and much of that left behind by earlier expeditions. Christian Walter, writing of the 'Nanga Parbat Expedition, 1993' in the same volume, said they left nothing on the mountain, burnt all their garbage and buried the ashes, having chosen garbage bags which were easily burnt. Eric Simonson, also writing in the same volume of the 1994 American Everest expedition, said all their garbage was hauled down to and out from base camp; they took out used batteries and medical waste.

2. Solid Waste, such as Cans and Plastic

Most expeditions carried out their solid waste.

The Sesar Rang Expedition, 1994, organised by the Calcutta Trekkers Youth, said it had no solid waste. Roger Payne's expedition to Nanda Devi East carried out burnt cans and non-degradable items together with unburnt plastics to Munsiari; so did the Spanish expedition UEC de Santa Catalonia. An expedition to Baruntse destroyed cans with a hammer.

The British-French Expedition to Everest, the French Nuptse expedition, 1994, and the American expedition to Ama Dablam, 1995, carried loads back to Kathmandu as did the Japanese expedition to Gyaji Kang, having pressed the cans and packed them in cartons. Unlike the Payne expedition, however, they burnt their plastics. Dennis Bertholet, who runs an agency in Kathmandu, brings his solid waste back to Kathmandu, or Leh or Darjeeling. The Norwegian Everest expedition (Tibetan side) dropped their solid waste in a container specially installed at base camp.

The Australian Garhwal expedition, 1994, carried down three porter loads to Gangotri, then transported this by road to Uttarkashi where the agency 'Mount Support' disposed of it. The Austrian expedition to Satopanth, 1995, brought back their solid waste to Gangotri; as did the Irish Satopanth expedition, 1994. The Japanese Expedition to Siniolchu brought back their solid waste to Lachen; the Tone Skarja expedition to Siniolchu, brought their waste back from base camp.

The Germans on Nanga Parbat took their non-combustible garbage to Gilgit while items like batteries were taken back to Germany. The Australians to Tilicho carried their stuff back to Murgha on yaks and donkeys; the Wyoming Women carried theirs to Tashigaon. The Cho Oyu expedition, 1995, reported that cans, bottles, fuel canisters were carried to BC and by yak to Tingri. The German expedition to Manaslu, 1995, carried all their garbage back to Kathmandu.

3. Toilets at High Altitudes

Most expeditions dug holes, used special toilet tents or latrine areas of one sort or another. Deep gullies and crevasses were also used.

The Dhaulagiri expedition dug deep latrines at base camp; at Camp I they used garbage bags and dropped these in crevasses. At higher camps, they 'just survived.' The Japanese on Gyaji Kang made four latrines at BC which they buried before leaving; at the higher camps they built lavatories of which useful sketches have been provided. The British on Everest freeze-dried human waste at BC and transported it to Name he Bazar for incineration.

The Americans on Ama Dablam, 1995, dug 30 foot pits and put lime over the pile, and covered it with dirt.

The Norwegians on Everest (Tibet) used a deep hole and self- destroying paper. The Americans on the other side of the mountain built a dehydrating solar toilet. The Australians on Tilicho built stone toilets at BC and later dug these into the ground; the Women's Wyoming expedition smeared their waste on rocks to be degraded by the sun.

4. Garbage at high altitudes.

In almost all cases, garbage was brought down from the higher camps to BC to be burnt or taken down to a disposal point. A couple of expeditions reported that small amounts had been thrown down crevasses.

5. Did you find Climbing Litter on the Mountain?

About a third of the expeditions found no cause to complain of climbing litter left on the mountain. On Dhaulagiri, there were some fixed ropes and remains of previous camps above 7000 m. on Nanda Devi East there were lots of ropes, climbing material and other rubbish like gas cylinders, kerosene and rotting food. On Everest there was some at Camp 2, the South Col was so banked up with snow that all the litter was invisible. There were some old ropes and hardware in the icefall and on the summit ridge. Bertholet reported that there was a lot of climbing litter left on mountains, especially gas cylinders.

The German expedition to Manaslu, 1995, found climbing litter at Camp 8: oxygen cylinders, ropes, tents, ice axes. The Americans on Ama Dablam, 1995, found many old fixed ropes and pickets. The Irish on Satopanth found a collapsed tent and two dead bodies on the route.

Roger Payne reported that the Indian-American expedition on Nanda Devi East were making a first-class job of clearing the mountain not only of their own rubbish and equipment but also that left by previous expeditions. The Australians on Tilicho also collected and took back a lot of old climbing ropes.

B. Your Observations

1. Was the Area Clean?

More than half the expeditions reported that they found their area fairly clean.

The Dhaulagiri expedition found the trekking route relatively clean, but base camp contained lots of garbage from previous expeditions. Roger Payne on Nanda Devi East found BC and ABC in the Lwan valley extremely dirty, and the Spaniards found the same; the Australians in Garhwal found a lot of rubbish at ABC so they cleaned it up and carried down one porter load. The Cho Oyu expedition, 1995, found ABC dirty. The Irish expedition to Satopanth said that 'some graffiti exhorting us to keep the area clean was the most intrusive problem!'

The Japanese on Siniolchu politely said the area was almost clean, but old cans and bottles were found in the Rest Camp and at Yabuk. They brought down some of them. The Tone Skarja expedition to Siniolchu also found traces of previous large expeditions. Bertholet reported that Annapurna and Kangchenjunga base camps were not particularly clean.

Lavkumar Khachar visited the Nanda Devi Sanctuary just over forty years after 'the epic entry by Shipton and Tilman... Unhappily, a stream from which we drew water for the camp was clogged with plastic sheets, plastic bags, rusting cans, bottles, films and tissue paper. All along the single, often dangerous narrow... trail, there were massive signs of degradation, cut trees, overgrazed meadows, burnt forests, charred grass slopes and he supreme visual affront to the divine presence was a massive, ugly scar diagonally cutting across the east fact of Malathuni (Curtain) Ridge caused by the passage of thousands of goats and sheep carrying expedition supplies.'

'The tragedy is that we as a people., appear to have jettisoned our own traditional ethos for the Himalaya. This assertion is clearly substantiated by a recent photograph of graffiti by some individuals of the Army team which had gone in 1993 (Sanctuary Magazine Vol.XIV) The Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve provides an opportunity to develop a model for intensive, though local specific, action plans and programmes to demonstrate how human beings can in fact.."enhance nature."

2. Could you identify garbage that was found?

In several cases, it was possible to identify the garbage and waste that was left behind.On Nanda Devi East, Roger Payne and the Spaniards identified some rubbish as Indian, Russian and Spanish.On Cho Oyu, 1995, Eric Simonson identified garbage left by Slovenes.The Americans on Ama Dablam identified some garbage as French.

The Australians in Garhwal pointed out that two Indian teams who shared their base camp left behind rubbish. They also wrote, 'At our BC, one of the Indian teams was seen heading to the stream to use as a toilet. This stream runs into the lake that teams use for drinking water. Thankfully they were stopped, though one still pod in it. This kind of disregard for the environment as well as dumping rubbish in rivers or streams must be stopped. I sometime wonder if local teams have any idea (or care) or are told of how to look after the environment by the IMF or any other body. It's all too easy to blame foreigners one should educate the locals as well.'

The Norwegians on Everest had hard words for the British Services expedition 1988. 'I am very sorry on behalf of the British Services Expedition 1988, and specially on behalf of the leader Dougie Keelan who really is a nice man, 'wrote Jon Gangdal. I told our Liaison officer Mr.Li Rui Hua.w ho is also deputy director in CMA (Chinese Mountaineering Association) about the British garbage and he said that if my information was true, no British expedition will be allowed to climb Chomolungma from Tibet before the garbage is removed. If you check a little bit on this case, you might probably have a good case for Himalayan Journal. The delicacy is of course this expedition consisted of 36 military people from all services in Britain. I think they must have some very good excuses for their behaviour.'

On the other hand, Eric Simonson, after Cho Oyu 1995, felt that the Chinese were environmentally unconscious (sic).

Bertholet felt it was almost always possible to identify litter left and this was mainly from Korean, Yugoslav and German expeditions.

3. State of forests and fauna

Deforestation seems to emerge as the major problem; not much wildlife was seen.

The expedition to Nilgiri Parbat saw some ibex; The Calcutta Trekkers Youth saw some butterflies and flowers as high as 5500 m. Roger Payne had expected to see more wildlife since they were in a sanctuary. The Irish on Satopanth saw a large herd of wild goats. The Women's expedition to Baruntse pointed out that while the Baruntse-Makalu National Park prohibited the burning of wood, no kerosene stoves were available at Tashigaon.

4. Attitude of local inhabitants, security personnel

No particular problems were indicated. Bertholet pointed out that in the Khumbu area, the Sherpas were starting to deal properly with their problems but other ethnic groups settling there were not.

On Ama Dablam, the liaison officer was reported to have no concept of waste or garbage disposal and was personally responsible for littering.

5. If brought down, how was garbage disposed of at destination?

The Dhaulagiri expedition reported that at the roadhead, the garbage was thrown on a pile, while at Kathmandu it ended up in the river. The Japanese Gyaji Kang expedition, however, reported that having brought back 30 kg to Kathmandu, it was disposed of at the processing plant behind the police station. Bertholet reported that there is a garbage disposal service in Kathmandu.

In Munsiari, Roger Payne left two plastic bags with a responsible person at the Government Rest House; the Spaniards also returning from Nanda Devi East, left their garbage in drums and warned the IMF of this.

The Japanese Siniolchu expedition asked the head porter in Lachen to dispose of it. The Norwegians, on the recommendation of their LO, dropped their garbage in a container which Chinese guides empty from time to time.

C. Your Suggestions

The Dhaulagiri expedition felt the best way of getting rid of garbage in Nepal was to drop it into the deepest crevasse you could find. (Alas, sooner or later, this will emerge at the end, having been preserved by the ice.)

The British Medical expedition to Everest had built a special incinerator; they took back cylinders and batteries to the UK for recycling.

The Wyoming Women's Baruntse expedition suggested that the HC contact the Makalu/Barun Project and ask them to inform expeditions of the regulations in force so they can buy stores and kerosene for their porters' use. (Extract from Nature Reserves of the Himalaya and the Mountains of Central Asia, IUCN Conservation Library, 1993. Pages 352-53.)

Chhamsel' Kangri (6622 m), left, and Lungser Kangri (6666 m), Rupshu. Routes of ascents.

Article 11 (Harish Kapadia)
17. Chhamsel' Kangri (6622 m), left, and Lungser Kangri (6666 m), Rupshu. Routes of ascents.

Karzok monastery, Rupshu. Mentok range in background.

Article 11 (Harish Kapadia)
18. Karzok monastery, Rupshu. Mentok range in background.

'The Makalu/Barun National Park and Conservation Area: The region is little visited (about 200 visitors per year) because of its ruggedness and poor transportation networks. It has a very high potential for trekking, mountaineering and eco-tourism, which is likely to be realised with the completion of the access road for the Aran III Hydroelectric Project in the late 1990s. There are no visitor facilities but a visitor centre is planned for Khandbari...'

'It is proposed that management be the responsibility of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, with technical and administrative support provided by the Woodlands Mountain Institute. A temporary headquarters will be established in Khandbari.'

The American Everest expedition reported that all camps were completely removed except for one tent at Camp 6. Old fixed ropes were removed; about half their empty oxygen bottles were carried down from the upper mountain.'The team tried to do a good job with the environment and challenges other teams to do the same.'


An analysis of the replies received to the 'Environment Questionnaires' sent by the Himalayan Journal.


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