September 8, 2006 – Keeping it Clean

A clear view of Nuptse

It’s September 8th and we are in Gorak Shep. Gorak Shep is the last trekking lodge outpost before Everest Base Camp. We are already along the lateral moraine of the Khumbu Glacier and we’re at 16,900 ft, not much below Everest Base Camp. Our late monsoon weather for this entire trek as we approach base camp has been perfect. It’s rained every day but it’s clear in the morning and temperatures are very warm. In fact last night in our comfortable beds in our lodge at Lobuche we listened to a very hard, monsoon rain pounding on the roof all night.

We woke this morning and saw Nupste in all its glory during a perfectly clear morning. But in the afternoon the rains came again and now I am standing underneath an umbrella as I make this call while looking down into the expanse of the Khumbu glacier below.

Ang Nima, the icefall doctorI just spoke with Ang Temba from base camp and today is a significant day, our Sherpa team advanced the route through the icefall and we have established Camp 1 today September 8th. This is important for our team, of course, we are really proud of our elite group of Sherpas. Working as a team they have established the icefall route. Under the leadership of Ang Nima, the longtime lead “Icefall Doctor”, 11 or our regular climbing sherpas worked hard over a period of 5 days to establish the route. I first climbed on Everest with Ang Nima in 1989, long before he became the “Icefall Doctor”. In those days another great sherpa named Lakpa Gelu from Namche had that role. This year we are proud to be doing things a little differently by having Ang Nima be on our staff rather than working independently for the SPCC.

Unlike recent spring seasons, where countless numbers of climbing Sherpas wait at base camp while 3 or 4 icefall doctor specialists advance the route through the icefall, our Sherpa team worked on the route together, part of our “One Team, One Mountain” approach to climbing Everest this season.

What is the SPCC anyway?

The SPCC (Sagamartha Pollution Control Committee) is doing a great job. In fact we have been trekking along with some of their supervisors who are checking the cleanliness of all the base camps and getting a handle on what the upper Khumbu looks like as this season begins. Some of these men were at Louche with us, others left to trek over the Cho La. A group will visit Everest Base Camp for a pre season inspection.

The Sagamartha Pollution Control Committee is the Nepalese NGO that your “Environmental Expedition” did not want you to know about. Cleaning up Everest Base Camp was the goal of numerous foreign expeditions to Nepal during the 1990’s and beyond. An untold amount of foreign currency was raised for these expeditions to come to Everest to climb. Each of these teams had to deposit $4000 which was refunded only after SPCC monitors confirmed that they had removed all their rubbish and solid human waste from Base Camp and another $2000 that was returned after they produced an export bill from Nepalese Customs proving that were exporting their empty oxygen bottles. This is what all teams have done since the SPCC was given authority to monitor cleanliness of Base Camps in the Khumbu in the early 1990’s. I have seen more than one “Environmental” team photograph their own piles of rubbish during the season, knowing full well that after they documented the “mess on Everest” they would have to remove it in order to get their $4000 back!

The SPCC deserves credit for the fact that Everest Base Camp, as well as most other areas used by trekkers and climbers in the Khumbu are in quite good shape.

Walking above the Khumbu Glacier

Most people assume that SPCC is a Nepalese Government Agency or that it is a part of the Ministry of Tourism. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact is a non-government organization that raises its own funds to administer and operate its programs.

In the year 2000 the SPCC took over the operation of the Icefall during the busy pre-monsoon spring season. This has no doubt been a very lucrative operation, and in fact other Sherpa related NGO’s have expressed that they would be more than glad to take this operation over should the SPCC lose interest or not do a good job.

But I can report that over its15 years of operation the SPCC is doing a good job. They currently have 17 staff working in Khumbu. They have an administrative staff including a program officer, mountain inspector and a field supervisor. My favorite SPCC staff members however are the “rubbish collectors” who show up uniformed, wearing gloves and filling trash bags each season. Funny thing, I’ve never seen a picture of one of these fellows on an environmental expedition website.

So even though we established the Icefall route on our own at the beginning of this season, Berg Adventures International will be working closely with the SPCC throughout this expedition. Next time you are in Namche stop by and say hi to these guys; they deserve more acknowledgment.

All Text, Images and Audio Files © Berg Adventures International 2006