No one climbs Mount Everest without the right equipment. And according to the government of Nepal, there's a new must-have item for the 2014 climbing season: extra garbage bags.
Everest towers 5 miles above sea level, but it's no longer above the sea of garbage that plagues many lower-altitude wilderness areas. The mountain has been climbed more than 6,000 times in the past 60 years, a surge in tourism that has boosted Nepal's economy but also littered Everest with cans, bottles, oxygen tanks and other reminders that what goes up doesn't necessarily come down.
In hopes of removing this mess, Nepal announced a new rule this week that will require all Everest climbers to bring back not just their own trash, but also 8 kilograms — 17.6 pounds — of garbage left on the mountain by previous climbers. The rule will take effect in April, according to Agence France-Presse, and will apply to anyone who travels beyond the mountain's base camp.
"The government has decided in order to clean up Mount Everest, each member of an expedition must bring back at least eight kilos of garbage, apart from their own trash," Nepalese tourism ministry official Madhusudan Burlakoti tells AFP. "Our earlier efforts have not been very effective. This time, if climbers don't bring back garbage, we will take legal action and penalize them."
Expeditions are already charged a $4,000 garbage deposit to climb Everest, refunded only if they return with everything they brought, but that strategy has reportedly suffered from enforcement issues. The new rule is designed to make violators more visible, and to foster a collective sense of responsibility for Mount Everest that goes beyond lean packing and personal cleanliness.
Not all Everest climbers who ditch their gear and garbage do so out of carelessness, however. Many are trying to shed weight, often a life-or-death decision made hastily on unforgiving slopes. Everest has claimed the lives of more than 240 climbers since the early 20th century, and many of their bodies remain on the mountain, preserved in place by the extreme cold.
Still, with hundreds of climbers successfully taming Everest every year, the garbage goes beyond necessity. The annual Eco Everest Expedition has collected more than 13 tons of trash from the mountain since 2008, and experts estimate another 10 tons are still up there. If each of the 658 people who reached Everest's summit in 2013 had brought back 17.6 pounds of trash — assuming they packed lightly enough to carry the extra weight — they could have cut those 10 tons in half.