The “garbage mountain” that rises to the top of the mighty K2

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ON July 22, Wajid Nagar and his team began the journey to scale the mighty K2. The mountaineer was ready for many challenges during the expedition, but what surprised him were the mounds of trash piled up on the second highest mountain in the world.

“As soon as we reached Camp 1, ahead of us were heaps of rubbish, including corpses, abandoned ropes, tin bundles, tents, climbing gear, human waste and plastic packaging,” recalls Wajid. Most of the trash was found in Camps 1, 2 and 3.

Wajid is not the only person worried about garbage. Sarah Strattan, a US-based climber who arrived in Britain in June for the K2 summit, had similar concerns.

“Camps 1 and 2 were the worst,” she told Dawn.com. “And you camp just above.”

Strattan said litter also littered the climbing route. “We melt the snow to get water in all the camps, and if the snow is dirty it can make us sick,” she added.

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One of the toughest peaks to reach in the world, K2 has seen a record number of climbers this year. According to the Gilgit-Baltistan Tourism Department, 204 permits were issued for K2 expeditions this summer.

Popular Nepali mountaineer and athlete Nirmal Purja echoed Strattan’s thoughts. “The garbage at Camp 2 was so bad this year that I almost threw up from the smell,” he recalled in a social media post.

Wajid said litter, especially ropes, was also deadly for climbers. “Because there are so many ropes, sometimes because of the weather, you end up taking the wrong rope, which has been there for a while and weakened. Halfway up the climb, the rope lets go and you fall to your death,” he explained.

The mountaineer also said that not all the rubbish could be knocked down in one day or by a handful of people. “It would take another expedition.”

The UK government staged a campaign to clean up the rubbish earlier this year, after almost a decade.

Yasir Hussain, director of Central Karakoram National Park (CKNP), told Dawn.com that a team of eight climbers was sent to collect rubbish from K2 Base Camp to Camp 4, at an altitude of 7,800m.

The cleanup mission lasted from July 19 to August 18. “The team ended up collecting 1,610kg of trash including climbing gear, tents, ropes, cylinders, batteries and shopping bags,” he said.

The garbage was then dumped at the CKNP landfill. The official said that separate camps have been set up to collect the waste every year and an incinerator has also been set up in the Askoli area to recycle and burn it. He admitted that this summer’s waste was the highest in years due to the number of expeditions on the mountain.

GB Tourism deputy director Sajid Hussain told Dawn.com that each team arriving at the K2 ladder was first briefed on the need to avoid restricted areas of the mountain and bring back rubbish. The department also charges each climber $200 for garbage collection, which is then used for clean-up campaigns. But he regretted that climbers often ignored the guidelines.

Mountaineer Wajid, however, called the guidelines “garbage”. He says that during his expedition, he picked up and brought back nearly 22 kg of waste. He also accused foreign climbers of littering the mountain, adding that organizations claiming to collect rubbish in return for a fee were “more talk than action”.

With the number of people reaching the top of K2 increasing every year, the solution is more about not littering than about cleaning up.

Haider Raza, regional manager for WWF-GB, said an individual’s impact on the mountain was far greater than that of a group.

All 8000m peaks in Pakistan produce between 15 and 20 tonnes of solid waste per year, of which 86pc is generated from K2. The environmentalist said this figure does not include all the waste from the mountain which must be in tonnes. “All of this waste, including the bodies, can remain in its original state for more than 1,000 years because everything is preserved in the snow.”

Raza explained that the plastic, when exposed to the sun, produced carbon monoxide, accelerating the melting of glaciers. “All the waste then flows into rivers and streams, creating problems not only for people but also for aquatic life.”

While the mess on K2 has created a buzz, there is still hope for the future.

Sajid from the UK Tourism Department told Dawn.com they are considering refunding the $200 fee charged to climbers who brought back their rubbish in an effort to encourage the practice. “We are also planning awareness campaigns to further educate climbers on collecting their own waste.”

Separately, the Nimsdai Foundation, led by mountaineer Purja, has announced a “Big Mountain Cleanup” for K2 next year, she said in an Instagram post.

Sarah Strattan suggested that climbing companies get together and get involved with the CKNP cleanup team to alleviate the litter issue.

“K2 is one of the most beautiful and stunning mountains on planet Earth and should be respected as such,” she added.

A detailed version of this report can be viewed at dawn.com

Posted in Dawn, September 12, 2022

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