Ever since I was a child I’ve been fascinated – obsessed even – with mountain climbing.
I’m in awe of the big mountains. They’re similar in size and scale but unique in their own way.
Everest – the most majestic and highest mountain in the world.
K2 – one of the most remote and dangerous mountains on the planet.
Meru – a slick sheet of granite, almost impossible to climb.
Kangchenjung – brutally unpredictable thanks to her volatile weather patterns.
I am drawn in by the adventure of big climbing, inspired by the human spirit, and awakened by the life and death risk.
I love everything about climbing, even the technical stuff, like expedition suits, crampons, carabiner clips, ice axes, and base camp tents adorned with tattered Tibetan prayer flags that flap in the high-altitude wind.
I’m also captivated by the ancient cities and villages that surround these great mountains. From the crazy and chaotic Kathmandu situated about 100 miles from Everest to the quiet and remote village of Askoe – about an 8-days walk from K2 base camp – it’s the people and their food, culture, and spirituality that make it all so magical.
Mountain climbing is one of the rawest and most hair-raising journeys of self-discovery anyone can embark on.
I’m reminded of a quote from Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to summit Mt. Everest: “It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”
The funny thing is, as much as I love the sport, I’ve never climbed a mountain or even a hill for that matter. Mountain climbing isn’t something I desire to do myself – instead, it’s a journey I enjoy experiencing vicariously through others who are a bit more daring than me.
However, while I’m not a mountain climber by any stretch of the imagination, I still hold a better-than-average grasp of the sport and have a healthy understanding of climbing culture, thanks to books, podcasts, and hundreds of documentaries I’ve consumed over the years.
I’m like a guy who knows a lot about football, but who’s never played the game. Sure, he loves the grid-iron battle and the clever plays, but if you put him on the field he’d get clobbered.
That’s kinda like me with mountain climbing, except I’m a girl.
So, it’s my lifelong love affair with mountain climbing that made me went to write this article.
However, I won’t be writing about heartwarming basecamp tales or harrowing summits. Instead, I’m going to talk about a topic that’s been swept under the rug for far too long.
Today, I am going to explain in very painful detail how a generation of filthy-rich narcissistic elites have single-handedly turned Mt. Everest into a landfill overflowing with paper, plastic, used oxygen tanks, human waste, and dead bodies.
Thanks to the selfish actions of craven elites, this majestic symbol of raw beauty and spiritual power are being disrespected and destroyed right before our very eyes.
And if that’s not bad enough, there’s more.
The water supply that flows to the local cities and villages is contaminated by garbage, feces, urine, and rotting human flesh.
That’s the story that must be told and the one I will tell today, in hopes that we can educate people on what’s really going on so Mt. Everest can regain back her dignity.
However, before we begin our journey down this elite debris field, I need you to understand how much it costs to climb Mt. Everest.
Let’s imagine you’re a privileged elite preparing for the trip of a lifetime. Here’s what you’ll need in order to climb 29,032 feet:
For starters, you’ll need about $8,000 dollars worth of gear, including down suits, sleeping bags, boots, helmets, trekking poles, harnesses, crampons, goggles, water purification systems, and a laundry list of other essential items.
Once you’ve got all your gear, you’ll need a flight to Kathmandu. Depending on where you’re flying from the cost varies, but the average roundtrip business-class ticket, including transfers, a flight to Lukla, and the trek to base camp will run you about $10,000 dollars.
So, at this point in our adventure, we’ve invested about $18,000 dollars – and ironically, this is the cheap part…now the real fun begins.
In order to even step foot on Mt. Everest, you’ll need a pricy permit. You’ll also need sherpas, food, oxygen, shelter, and guides. Lucky for you it’s easy to purchase everything you need in one package, but it ain’t cheap.
Depending on your budget the price for your summit package will range anywhere from $45,000 to $115,000 dollars. For the sake of this fictitious adventure let’s meet somewhere around the $75,000 mark.
So, combined with your gear, airfare, and summit package, your trip to Mt. Everest will cost you right around $93,000.
It’s not cheap to stand on top of the world.
Now, I’m not sure about you, but I don’t have $93,000 dollars laying around in disposable income – most people don’t. This is why big mountain climbing is a vey exclusive sport that’s enjoyed by the world’s elite and many wealthy eco/green liberal-types from the US.
Of course, there are some people who don’t have that kind of money and will still find ways to get to Everest – maybe they’ll spend $20,000 and really risk life and limb, while others might look for sponsors or donors to help fund their bid for the summit.
But make no mistake about it, climbing Everest is an elitist game.
And it’s a long game as well.
The entire climb will take roughly about 8 weeks.
The first week is spent arriving at base camp, and the following four to six weeks are spent “climatizing” yourself to the high altitude by going up and down the mountain. The actual bid for the summit will take about five days.
So, when you go to Everest, you’re there for the long haul. And as with anything in life, when you and about 1000 other people are in one spot for too long it shows.
According to National Geographic, during their time on the mountain, each person there will generate an average of about 18 pounds of trash. So, let’s do some math: In 2019 there were 807 climbers on Everest – that means the 2019 climbers generated about 14,526 pounds of trash in total.
That’s a lot of garbage.
But the most disturbing part in all of this, according to the National Geographic piece, is that most of that waste never leaves the mountain. The bulk of that 14,526 pounds of annual garbage is left on the slopes by privileged elites with $93,000 bucks and 8-weeks to burn on a fancy vacation.
Thanks to the selfishness and irresponsibility of these elites and the governments of Nepal and China, the slopes of Everest look like a landfill.
They’re littered with used oxygen canisters, abandoned tents, food containers, wrappers, bottles, and piles and piles of human feces.
So, why is everyone pooping all over Everest, you might wonder?
It’s due to logistics and the inhospitable environment as you go higher up the mountain.
Down at base camp, they have make-shift toilets that can be carried away and emptied (where exactly they are being emptied is another terrifying question for a different day). But that’s it as far as “bathrooms” go. Once the climbers leave base camp and ascend to higher more desolate camps near the summit, there’s no way to haul makeshift bathrooms up and down on a sherpa’s back.
So, as a result, the mountain is coated in elite poop.
A recent study estimated over 8000 kilograms of human feces was left on Mt. Everest.
Nobody knows exactly how much garbage is on Everest, but it’s estimated to be in the “tons.”
It’s so bad, that, garbage is actually spilling out of melting glaciers, and camps are overrun by tidal waves of human feces. As the ice and snow melt, the garbage that has been buried-frozen for decades is now exposed. And that old waste poses a new and serious health risk to everyone who depends on Everest for their water supply.
National Geographic goes on to report that the Sagarmatha National Park watershed is the most important water source for the thousands of people living in communities around Mount Everest, and thanks to this environmental mess, it’s now contaminated.
The snow melts from Everest and flows into the streams and rivers.
The water source servicing the nearby villages and cities isn’t properly treated. There are no water management or treatment facilities in the area. So, that means the contaminated snow melts and flows into the rivers and streams, then straight into the homes of the local people who end up getting sick and who also run the risk of spreading diseases like cholera and hepatitis A.
It’s a vicious cycle that occurs every single climbing season.
What’s happening on Everest is an “elite-made” environmental catastrophe and a stain on humanity.
The guy who paid $93,000 dollars to summit Mt. Everest gets to go back to his swanky pad and drink clean water, while the poor villager is forced to wade through the remnants of 14-thousand-pounds-of-garbage.
If that’s not class warfare on the most brutal and cruel of scales, I don’t know what is.
And what about all of these “progressive/eco-friendly” outdoor companies…where have they been for the past few decades while all the garbage and filth has been piling up on Everest? Companies like The North Face and Eddie Bauer make millions and millions of dollars from selling expensive outdoor gear to rich mountain climbers. Just one down-filled expedition suit from The North Face costs $1,000 dollars.
Big mountains are big money for these companies, so, where have they been?
I’ll tell you where – many of these companies spent the better part of four years lashing out at President Trump. Yes, they’ve donated millions to environmental causes, but surely, they could have used one iota of that anti-Trump passion to pick up some garbage that their customers left behind on Mt. Everest, or at the very least, create an awareness campaign.
These environmentally-friendly companies haven’t done nearly enough – if anything, they’ve turned a blind eye to the eco and privileged disaster that has unfolded on the mountain – because if these politically powerful and incredibly rich and well-connected companies had done enough, Everest wouldn’t be a landfill right now.
That’s the truth, whether you like it or not.
These companies should be educating their wealthy customers with hard facts, not rhetoric about climate change and politics. Imagine if Eddie Bauer unveiled a campaign that highlighted the faces of Nepalese villagers who can’t drink clean water because too many rich liberals want to have an “epic adventure.”
Imagine the impact that would have? Honestly, it would probably have far too much of an impact and those “one thousand-dollar” expedition suit sales would likely plummet.
One of the places on Everest most impacted by garbage, human waste, and dead bodies is called the “Death Zone.”
In the “Death Zone,” the altitude starts at about 26 thousand feet. There is so little oxygen in the “Death Zone” that the human body starts to die immediately, “minute-by-minute and cell-by-cell.” It’s not safe for anyone to spend an extended amount of time in the “Death Zone.”
Actually, most people who don’t make it off Everest wind up dying in the “Death Zone” and their bodies are just left there.
I watched a harrowing documentary recently called “Death Zone. It follows the journey of twenty Nepali sherpas who used their own money and risked their lives to venture into the “Death Zone” to try and clean up their sacred mountain and save their water source.
The sherpas made several trips up and down the mountain, hauling hundreds and hundreds of pounds of elitist garbage strapped to their backs. They also brought down two dead bodies and one sherpa nearly died in the process.
But that’s the type of love and respect these locals have for their sacred mountain. That’s why when the season is over and the elites finally leave and go home, the local villagers will spend their own hard-earned money and risk life and limb to clean up the messes these pampered pusses left behind.
That’s the difference between a local and an elite – and it’s striking.
The locals don’t view Everest through the eyes of a narcissist who’s wants bragging rights at his kids Birthday party. To them, Everest is not something to be “conquered.” She exists to be respected, revered, and served.
This belief, however, stands in stark conflict with the goals of your average big mountain climber. Oh sure, he’ll tell you what he’s doing is very spiritual and respectful as he stands there in $8,000 dollars worth of fancy North Face gear, throwing his garbage on the ground and looking for a cozy corner to drop a dookie.
His compelling words don’t match his ugly actions.
But in the end, the locals face their own conflict of sorts – a moral and spiritual dilemma. They need the work and the money that wealthy climbers provide, but the cost of doing business is very high – their sacred Mountain turns into a gigantic garbage heap and their precious water sources are tainted, leaving them sick.
It’s a quandary for the locals, but it’s shameful for the elites.
The good news is that local governments have begun taking steps to clean the mountain. They’ve enacted a deposit initiative where anyone visiting Mount Everest must pay a $4,000 deposit, and the money is refunded if the person returns with 18 pounds of garbage.
Why on earth do these privileged putz’s need to be bribed to do the right thing?
Overcrowding on Everest is a huge problem as well, and scaling that back would help immensely. Also, anyone who goes into the “Death Zone” should be required to hire an additional sherpa to carry down waste, because deposit or not, when you’re in the “Death Zone” you’re literally dying, so gathering up your garbage is the last thing on your mind.
But the one idea that might help most would be to teach our elites manners and respect. I don’t think they would appreciate it if hundreds of people crammed into their backyard for weeks on end, pooping and peeing everywhere, and throwing 14 thousand pounds of garbage around, and tainting their water supply.
Decency and manners should never be left back at home when you go on an adventure.
Mountain climbing should be about freedom and oneness with nature and discovering your strengths and weaknesses. It shouldn’t be about standing in a line 120-people-long for four hours waiting for your turn to take a selfie on top of the world. It’s Mt. Everest, for crying out loud, not Disney Land.
At some point these climbers have to ask themselves one question: If you’re doing something beautiful for an ugly reason, is it still beautiful?