Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Extortion and the upstream consequences

May 29, 21:00hrs (NPT)       Everest, from Bad to Worse  

Highlights of fighting and a portrayal of an overcrowded tourist attraction may do the Sherpa community a big favor in the end.  

Extortion and the upstream consequences 

The ministry of Nepal demands every expedition pay a $4,000.00US garbage DEPOSIT.  Once you've gone through all the steps, paying several thousands in Sherpa wages to clean the mountain off of all oxygen bottles, bringing all the nylon in the form of tents and any food garbage off the mountain and human waste. You also pay thousands to have it carried down the valley on yaks and then the costs associated with disposal. We paid $2200.00 alone just on human waste disposal not counting everything else. Probably close to $10k per permit by the time you're done on top of the $4K. You do your bit to prove it with the procedures in place and when you're done, you get your documentation to show it and  you get your deposit back. Just the way it should be, and it worked once they got it all figured out that is. 

The problem in the past was the SPCC (Sagamartha Pollution Conservation Control) in Namche Bazaar didn't really do much to have an expedition prove anything, they'd just sign everyone off without having to prove taking anything off the mountains- or - something much worse and this is what we are concerned with.  Expeditions would come here and just build the $4k into their budget and assume it as a write-off and walk away from their garbage and call it a wrap at the end of the season without removing one darn thing. Nice and easy, this was done more often than not but it did stop once we started to make some noise about it.

We pushed hard here for better control in all our years. We even resorted to collect garbage from mountains like Pumori and was able to identify the team by the writing on their garbage, Tim caught up with SPCC and demanded they not signoff this expedition and brought it to the attention of the Ministry. They were listening then. We led by example about taking human waste off the upper mountains routes, and we can tell you before that none of them were on Everest. They were all throwing it into the crevasses in black garbage bags, thankfully that's now stopped - or at least we hope so.

For years we've fielded media request for headlines of things that to us just didn't make sense to be worthy of such attention. For quite a spell there was so much written about photos of old garbage on Everest but it was never really made clear that it was years past garbage that is melting out of the ice due global warming It was left behind in the day by old time expeditions like the Hillary one (not to let him off easy), even though these expeditions thought no one would ever follow in their footsteps. Today the medias lights are on crowds, records, death and now fighting putting a negative light on the beauty of climbing mountains and those who make it possible to maintain groups in a controlled fashion and that have a great interest in keeping their place of work clean and to be able to share it with rest of the world to those who aspire to do something healthy and appreciate our planets beauty, all while experiencing a new culture and not to disrupt it with debris.

The Himalayas is a mountaineering paradise and for this country it has brought much good to the people and economies, not only here, but other mountainous regions on all continents who are lucky enough to have them and the ability to create green employment. True renewable spin-off to local green economies instead of clear cutting forests and mining that outdoor enthusiasts are always in a tug-o-war with. The green industries always seem to lose in the end. Tree huggers always get pushed aside when there's things like financial drama and war in world, or similar press for Everest antics, gimmicks, and claims of heroism. 

Sherpa land and its people are going to be in a situation that will be out of their control. It's in the hands of the Ministry of Nepal in Kathmandu to do the right thing here. 

Sherpa land is going to get trashed and the villagers won't be able to keep up with what's coming. The ministers in the tourism office in Kathmandu are not giving back garbage deposits, they are getting lost in the pockets of corruption in their tourism office. They kept ours and other expeditions from last year with no explanation, once again this year we are being told it's in the mail kind of thing which means: don't expect it, which also means extortion. 

Corruption needs to be cleaned at the foothills of the Himalayas before the mountains will ever stay clean. When we used to climb Ama Dablam located nearby Everest in the early nineties, we made a fuss to the ministry that the base area of Ama Dablam couldn't sustain the human waste being covered over with dirt each season. The practice then was to make a hole and each expedition was to bring a toilet tent and erect it over the hole, when that hole was full, they'd just move and make a new one. Hundreds of expeditions were starting to come here and in no time at all they were digging into old toilet pits. Our first experience on Ama Dablam was in 1996, we explained loudly to the ministry that the base area is just too small and nothing breaks down at that altitude. We put pressure on the ministry to use some of the peak fee money and get some toilets constructed there to collect it and move it out and they did and it works. It's solid ground at Ama Dablam base camp as it is at CBC (Chinese Everest base camp) on the Tibetan north side of Everest so it's possible to do so. On the south it's a moving glacier and not possible. It's "suppose" to be collected, weighed and the team is responsible to pay porters to carry it in buckets down the valley where it's burned. 

Fortunately on Ama Dablam "in the day" the ministry was curious to learn on how to do things better and that worked out, but then the waste up above on the route started to be a more serious health concern. Our complaints and suggestions started to fall on deaf ears and that's why we don't climb there anymore. Nothing worse than digging into some snow to melt the much needed water, say no more. 

After waiting four days and talking to various individuals at the Hillary breakfast celebration I learned that a couple of expeditions did get their garbage deposit back but not until some bribes were paid to certain folks in office. Very disappointing.  

At the end of the day all we can do is simply ask expeditions to continue to do above and beyond to keep the mountain clean with or without broken rules in a broken system.

That's the end of our rant. 

Tim and Becky Rippel