Newsletter 1928 April 2010
Where does all the rubbish go?
Monday night saw the first of the famous Himex parties of the season, which was staged in the ‘White Pod’ where clients and crew members had the chance to get together. The reason for the party was that the team had finished the first acclimatisation phase on Lobuje Peak and was getting ready for the second phase on Mount Everest itself. Unfortunately, the turnout was pretty slim, and had it not been for the dozens of dancing Sherpas, the staff and the few attending clients would have had to party by themselves.
These Himex parties are always a good occasion for ‘East to meet West’ as they give the Sherpas, guides and clients the opportunity to meet, hang out and dance together, something which is not really on the daily agenda as the Sherpa’s and client’s quarters are separated in the camp, and the two groups do not mingle too much – at least not before the summit push.
The bash went on until the wee morning hours, which has led to the camp being rather quiet on the following day with people sleeping, reading, lying on a deck chair in the White Pod or checking their emails. This peaceful atmosphere has given me the chance to sit in the kitchen tent with the two top chefs Lakchu and Tashi to find out more about the rubbish disposal at base camp – something I am repeatedly asked about.
First of all - and this might not be the most pleasant topic to write about - is the disposal of human waste, which is not insignificant considering that there are about 60 people visiting the toilet at the Himex camp on a daily basis. The base camp toilet consists of a barrel that is topped with a toilet seat, where people can sit comfortably and go about their business. Every two to three days, two barrels are carried down to the next village, where their contents are dumped into a landfill. “The problem is that the waste takes a long time to decompose as Gorak Shep is still at an altitude of about 5,000m. Some people also forget to take out the plastic bags, which makes the decomposing process even more difficult,” Tashi said. “From next year, the human waste will probably be carried down to Dingboche, as it is lower and the people in Gorak Shep have been complaining that the landfill is too close to their water source,” Lakchu added.
I was actually wondering whether these ‘Pooh Porters’ would be embarrassed by their load, however, Tashi does not think so. “These barrels normally weigh around 20kg and the porters get an extra pay of 100 rupees per kilo, so they are happy,” he said.
While I was chatting away in the kitchen, a porter with a big blue barrel was walking past, and Tashi told me that this was actually the human waste barrel from last year’s expedition coming down from Camp 2. “At the end of last season the weather was so bad that we could not go back up to Camp 2 to collect it. Russell always wants to make sure the mountain is clean and that is why we went back to bring down the barrel,” he explained.
Another new system Himex has brought to Mount Everest is the use of the so-called ‘Wag Bags’ on the mountain. A ‘Wag Bag’ consists of a big and a small plastic bag, which are both biodegradable, and can be used as a toilet preventing leaving human waste on the mountain. Everyone is required to use these bags once they go higher up and bring down their own pooh. “It might be a bit weird for Westerners as well as Sherpas to carry their own human waste, however, Himex and a few other teams are trying to get other expeditions to do the same. It cannot go on that people continue to contaminate the mountain like this,” said Russell. In the future, these ecologically friendly expeditions are hoping for the Nepalese government to impose a rule for climbers to bring down their own waste.
Base camp also has to cope with lots of other rubbish, such as cans, bottles, paper, plastic, batteries, etc. and Tashi and Lakchu were kind enough to take the time to explain their disposal to me. The easiest waste to dispose of are, of course, any remaining edibles. “Once a week, we feed around 100kg of vegetables and other edible waste to the yaks,” Tashi explained. Burnable goods, such as paper, cardboard, plastic and eggshells, are carried down to Namche Bazaar, where the rubbish is burnt for 50 rupees per kilogramme. “At the end of last season, we burnt around 2,000kg in Namche Bazaar,” Lakchu remembers. Everything that is not burnable goes back to Kathmandu, where the Ministry of Tourism makes sure that all teams return their unburnable rubbish to the capital by charging them a deposit for the goods they take into base camp. “We have to provide a food-list and the ministry actually counts our goods. As far as tins are concerned, we need about five per day, which adds up over a period of two months,” Lakchu continued.
And this brings me to the actual purchase of food items. At the beginning of this season, the kitchen team bought about 3.5 tons of food for the expedition. “It took six people around three weeks to pack all the items for transport,” Tashi said. “The food was flown by 10 Pilatus Porter flights to Syangboche, the airstrip above Namche Bazaar, and was then carried by porter or yak to base camp,” Lakchu added.
As I am writing this, most of the team members are relaxing or sipping espresso from our newly acquired Espresso machine in the ‘White Pod’ trying to rest before the second big acclimatisation phase, which will take them all the way up to Camp 3 on the steep Lhotse face. The whole crew will leave base camp very early on Thursday morning, and it should be a beautiful trip to the higher camps as full moon will be illuminating their path through the icefall. I will keep you updated on how the team is doing in the next few days.