Before mountaineers Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary climbed the highest peak, the former surveyor general of India – George Everest – was the first to record its height. In 1856, the British surveyor stated in the Great Trigonometrical Survey of the Indian subcontinent that Everest is the highest peak in the world – reaching almost 8,849 meters. Eventually, the peak was named after him by the then-British government. But Everest is also known as Sagarmatha to the people of Nepal, which means “the head of great blue sky”. Tibetans, on the other hand, call it Chomolungma, which means “Mother Goddess of the world”. Mount Everest stands solitarily, like a lone wolf amidst the vastness of the Himalayas.

The Earth’s highest peak is jointly shared by Nepal and Tibet (an autonomous region of China). Nepal’s government issues permits for climbing Mount Everest. Scaling mountains is a lifelong goal for many mountaineers, meaning that Everest’s climbing industry in Nepal earns millions of dollars of revenue from international climbers. It also generates jobs during the peak season for the local people who own hotels, or work as porters and guides. 

In 2023, 667 climbers scaled Mt. Everest. However, this steep number has become a highly controversial matter after the Nepal government gave the highest ever number of permissions to climbers last year. More people come with more pollution, and more unwanted items all over the mountain. Increasing instances of human traffic jams occuring at the Everest summit point cause chaos, and more deaths in the ‘death zone’ – which is at over 28,000 feet altitude. Many climbers have succumbed to death due to the extensive congestion along the trail. Climbers have to stand in the queues for hours in the freezing cold to reach the top, and low air pressure and oxygen levels mean climbers need extra oxygen canisters to avoid life-threatening incidents. Many climbers said that they didn’t suffer a lot due to the cold or  wind, but rather were exhausted by the snail’s pace over the Hillary Step. In 2019, 17 climbers died during their summit attempt – many of them whilst waiting in the queue. After the human traffic jam incident in 2019, the Nepal government received sharp notes from environmentalists due to issuing too many climbing permits. They suggested the government should limit the numbers and come up with stricter rules. 

The death zone is also quite literal: dead corpses are impossible to bring down from the mountain. For years, corpses remain scattered across the mountains, visible to climbers during ascent. Many climbers spend weeks at the mountain base camps before advancing to the summit. During that time, each person generates on average 18 pounds of trash, which they mostly leave on the mountain. Human feces is another major issue. In the base camp, there are tented toilets, but for the rest of the expedition climbers have to relieve themselves directly on the mountain terrain. This causes major environmental and health issues for the indigenous people who live in the valleys.Tents, empty food cans, plastic bottles, empty oxygen canisters, tissue papers and many more things are left by the climbers.

 Climate change also causes rapid snowmelt, exposing garbage hidden in the snow for years. According to the National Geographic Society, there are no waste management facilities at the Everest base camp. The mountain trash empties into the area near the village, which contaminates the local stream during the monsoon season. The Sagarmatha National Park watershed is an important water source for the local people who live in the mountain areas. This watershed becomes filled with contaminated water via rainfall and snowmelt. Water contaminated with fecal matter can spread diseases like cholera and hepatitis, which can be life threatening. 

Since Hillary and Norgay reached the summit in 1953, more than four thousand people have followed their footsteps until now. NGOs and the Nepal government have taken some steps to control human pollution, but due to the lack of available monitoring facilities, every effort appears to be in vain.

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