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Asia, Tibet, Everest Clean-Up

Everest Clean-Up. Our 1992 team consisted of Tom Leech, Pierre Braun- schwig, Steve Kin, Chris Naumann, Kyle Schmierer, Peter Nichol and me. We arrived in Kathmandu on July 1 after two years of careful planning, expecting a warm welcome from the Chinese authorities in Tibet, only to learn that they had denied our permit to enter Tibet. Eventually, we were allowed to enter that country, but we were only pemitted to spend five days at Everest Base Camp rather than the month we had planned and were ordered not to pick up any rubbish in Tibet. The day after we arrived in Tibet, we were told by a Chinese official that there was no rubbish in the mountains of Tibet and therefore there was no need for any clean-up work. We were, however, allowed to travel to the remote east side of Everest, a several-day trek up the Karta and Kama valleys to the Kangshung Base Camp. Accompanied by Sherku Sherpa from Kathmandu, two liaison officers from Lhasa, four yak herders and ten yaks, we traveled over the Shao La to Base Camp and back over the Langma La. Along the Shao La, used mainly by local villagers and trekking groups, we saw virtually no litter. The Langma La route, used by expeditions to the Kangshung face, contained moderate amounts of trash, particularly at campsites. Although we were forbidden to pick up rubbish, our liaison officers picked it up themselves when we pointed out how it spoiled the beauty of this remote area. A week after we arrived, we were told we must not take photos of rubbish. One liaison officer confiscated two rolls of film and warned of probable trouble when we left Tibet (which fortunately went without incident). We did conduct water quality tests along the way and took stool samples from team members for later analysis by an American Army lab in Bangkok. We also experimented with carrying out all human waste in a spill-proof, five-gallon bucket. Near the end of the trek, the bucket mysteriously disappeared when yak herders passed through camp! We also observed that the forests of the Karta and Kama valleys were being logged, despite a prohibition on cutting timber. We saw villagers, mainly women, carrying heavy loads of hand-hewn timbers to the trailhead near Uba, where the wood was loaded on trucks, destined perhaps for Lhasa and points east. Though not large in scale, this logging threatens some of Tibet’s few remaining forests. After the trip to the Kangshung Base Camp, we traveled to the Rongbuk valley, the site of our clean-up efforts in 1990. The number of visitors is increasing. Several foreign travelers without Chinese “hosts” arrived at the monastery while we were there. Some trash was evident in the camping area near the monastery, but Base Camp and Advance Base looked great with little trash. We were delighted to see that the Tibetan Mountaineering Association had constructed two large rubbish-holding areas and two toilet buildings in Base Camp. The stone holding-areas we had built at Advance Base in 1990 are definitely being used, one being nearly full of garbage. We also verified that trash is periodically being transported out of Base Camp in the truck we donated in 1990. Much progress has been made on the Tibetan side of Everest. We shall continue our work in the Himalaya, which needs financial support. We shall be glad to receive donations sent to the Everest Enviromental Project, 3730 Wind Dance Lane, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80906.

Robert McConnell