Kudos to the 12-person clean-up crew that recently hauled 24,000 pounds of trash off of Mount Everest. For decades, the problem was largely limited to what the few professional climbing expeditions left behind each year. That was bad enough, but the garbage quickly accumulated with the advent of commercially guided climbs in the early 1990s. The $207,000 makeover was long overdue, though it should never have come to this.
The No. 1 rule of wilderness travel is pack it in, pack it out, or leave only footprints, take only photographs. Instead, westerners who often pay $45,000 or more to climb Everest left behind everything from shredded tents to human waste. Locals consider the mountain holy. Think of it like privileged tourists leaving behind oxygen bottles, food wrappers and used toilet paper in the Washington National Cathedral or the Dohány Street Synagogue.
A lot of litter remains, and a record number of foreign climbers are on the mountain this year. The Nepalese and Chinese governments instituted rules that require climbers to pack out garbage, but history proves they won't. Another related problem: Climate change is melting the mountain's glaciers, exposing more of the 200 or so dead bodies that remain near the climbing routes. This year, the crew removed four of them.
Everest is jokingly known as the world's highest garbage dump, a stark reminder of how we too often ruin the places we supposedly cherish. The cleanup is a good start, but redemption will only come with sustained effort.