food / travel

Picking Up The Trash On The World's Highest Mountain

Would you climb 8,848 meters to pick up other people's waste, discarded climbing gear and even the occasional dead body? This is what the Eco Everest Expedition sets out to do every year.

By Holger Kreitling
DIE WELT/Worldcrunch

Professional mountain climbers like the Everest base camp about as much as hermits enjoy Oktoberfest. There are hundreds of tents at 5,600 meters altitude -- it's noisy and full of people.

Garbage is a hot topic here, at the base the world's highest mountain. Paul Thelen has been here twice, and knows the situation. "You're surrounded by filth," he says over the phone, without the faintest trace of irritation or repugnance in his voice. Then again, as an active 68-year-old, Thelen has seen a lot in life.

He and a friend, Eberhard Schaaf, a mountain climber like himself, have come to Nepal to clean up garbage. The men are part of the annual Eco Everest Expedition (EEE) that has been clearing trash from the camp and the path to the top of the mountain since 2008. So far, these expeditions have collected over 13 tons of garbage, including several hundred kilos of excrement and a few corpses.

Thelen and Schaaf are the first Germans to take part in the expedition, which this year is made up of 16 climbers from seven countries. They will be on site until the end of May. And they want to get to the top – all 8,848 meters of it.

It's a dangerous endeavor. The Germans say they have two goals: to climb up and then to come back down. Both goals are difficult in themselves, but luckily one of their sponsors is Doppelherz, a manufacturer of energy tonics for seniors.

Old tents, scraps of fabric and a few corpses

Thelen, a management consultant from the German spa town of Aachen, says he has been dreaming about mountains since he read books about the Everest as a teenager. He's only been climbing very high mountains for a few years, though. Before that, he mostly stuck to marathons. With Eberhard Schaaf, a sports physician who is also from Aachen, he's climbed the Kilimanjaro (5,893 meters), Mount McKinley (6,194 meters), and in 2009 he made it up to the top of Argentina's Aconcagua (6,962 meters).

Thelen calls them their "practice mountains." For Everest, he and Schaat trained intensively for a year, rope climbing at an ice rink, choosing stairs over elevators, generally toughening up. Not to be underestimated was the mental preparation, which can be half the battle, Thelen adds.

The expedition, as is the norm on Everest, is going to set up four camps that expedition members will climb up to several times to get used to the altitude and learn the way. Both they and Sherpas carry food and equipment up to the third camp at 7,200 meters, then climb down with empty backpacks.

They also carry sturdy nylon sacks that can be filled with 10 to 12 kilos of garbage including old tents, tent poles, fabric scraps, which are all frozen solid. All this equipment has been left by hundreds of climbers.

Most of the garbage has been there since the 1990s, when the boom in tourist expeditions began. And as global warming is also making the famous – and dangerous – Khumbu Glacier melt, even more detritus is appearing. The EEE has even found tin cans dating from 1962.

Everest has been climbed over 5,000 times, 80% of which since 2000. The mountain, which in Tibetan is known as the Mother of the Universe, has been dubbed the "highest garbage dump in the world." Thelen says, however, that the situation is improving. A lot of trash has been removed, and new expeditions are more environmentally savvy.

It goes without saying that Thelen and Schaaf leave nothing behind, and use renewable energy and a heavy parabolic cooker instead of the lighter kerosene burner.

Taking your garbage down with you can mean life or death

Thelen understands why climbers leave so much refuse. "On Everest, after a certain altitude you devote your strength to climbing or coming down safely. You are totally preoccupied with that, nothing else." Empty oxygen bottles are heavy, tents are often totaled by storms or snow, and climbers often just don't have the strength to schlep them along.

The "death zone," where climbers lose strength even if they are not exerting themselves, begins at 7,000 meters. Here, dawdling brings certain death. It is not uncommon for climbers to die of exhaustion – in 2006 alone, 11 climbers died. And most are left where they died.

A major problem is human waste. At the base camp there are toilet tents, and the toilets are regularly emptied. At higher altitudes "clean mountain cans' (CMC) are used. CMC's have bags inside them that are emptied every two or three days. If the "death zone" has any positives, it's that at that height human digestion slows down to virtual standstill so the members of the expedition don't have to go that high to pick up waste.

This expedition is probably not going to be taking any corpses down the mountain, although past expeditions have. Until a few years ago, there were cadavers along the route and climbers had to pass them on the way down, in extremely dangerous and difficult circumstances, particularly through the Khumbu Icefall where narrow ladders are used.

Thelen says he doesn't feel fear – just respect. Here, people are just "fly droppings' he says: he would never speak of "conquering" a mountain. Without passion and absolute belief in its success, you might as well not bother, he says. Until 2007 only every fifth attempt to reach the top was successful: the number has gone up since. By the end of 2010, 3,100 people had made it to the top. Thelen and Schaat hope to be among the climbers adding to that number.

Read the full article in German in Die Welt.

Photo – scodjy

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.

[*Danish]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

98

For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.

🇮🇷🎓  IN OTHER NEWS

Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Thoughts on Facebook's new name? Zuckerverse? Tell us how the news look in your corner of the world: Drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

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