A mountain of trash: China closes Everest for clean-up


Mount Everest, where the air is thin and climbing to the summit is a task to which few are equal, is a terrible place to organise a clean-up operation. But now China is planning to restrict access by climbers to the summit of what they call Mount Qomolangma to allow environmental teams to carry out a huge clean-up of the world's highest rubbish dump.

Just weeks after the Olympic torch relay across the planet's highest peak, mountaineers are planning to scale it to clear the mounds of discarded tins, cans, bottles, oxygen canisters, rucksacks and even the occasional corpse of a climber.

In 2007, 40,000 people visited Everest's Chinese northern side. While that is significantly fewer than the number that went up from the Nepali side to the south, they still managed to leave 120 tonnes of rubbish.

The Tibetan environmental protection agency wants to restrict access to Everest and clean up the northern foothills.

"We have a responsibility to ensure the water source of the river flowing from Everest to the sea is clean," said Zhang Yongze, the leader of the environmental group. "Our target is to keep even more people from abusing Mount Everest," he told the Xinhua news agency.

Everest's 29,035ft peak is on the border between China and Nepal and, in the 55 years since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first conquered it, thousands of climbers have visited the area, providing a significant source of income to both countries. But the routes have become hopelessly overcrowded, with every group of climbers leaving its own unmistakable footprint on the mountain.

The gruelling ascent, combined with deep snow, high altitude and thin air means that those who reach the summit tend to leave their gear up there to make the descent easier. The extreme cold prevents decomposition of most of the detritus. It is thought that there at least 120 frozen corpses on the mountain.

On the Nepali side, the government insists that climbers bring their gear back with them or risk losing a hefty financial deposit. No similar rule applies on the Chinese side.

There are sceptical voices about China's environmentalist claims, especially since – earlier this year – Beijing paved a road to Base Camp against the wishes of international conservationists and Tibetan independence activists who said it was the latest effort to dilute Tibetan culture in the region.

Jin Canrong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations at Beijing's Renmin University denied that, saying: "The cleaning work to Mount Everest is for environmental protection. But some Tibetan independence elements have given a political interpretation for acts of environmental protection."

Environmentalists say most of the rubbish that has accumulated on Everest is cosmetic and not a major problem, though the fact that climbers tear up the local shrub juniper to make fires is worrying because it can lead to soil erosion.

Smaller-scale clean-ups have been attempted before: the last such effort was in 2004, when a team of 24 volunteers removed eight tonnes of junk. In 2006, another cleaning expedition retrieved 1.3 tonnes of rubbish.

The planned Chinese campaign will take place in the first half of 2009 to protect the fragile ecology of the Himalayan plateau. The exercise is also aimed at preserving the melting Rongbuk glacier, which has retreated 490ft at the base of Everest in the past decade, Mr Zhang, the clean-up leader, said.

In May this year, Chinese authorities limited the climbing season, convincing the Nepali government to shut down the southern approach to Everest for several days to make sure there was no disruption of the politically sensitive Olympic torch relay.

Tibetan activists accused Beijing of using the relay to symbolise its control over Tibet. For China, Tibet is, was and always will be Chinese. Mr Zhang described the Olympic expedition as a model of environmental responsibility, saying climbers, support crews and media carried away large amounts of garbage and relied on "environmental lavatories" to avoid fouling the mountain.

i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower