Everest: The Mess at the Top of the World

Overcrowded with inexperienced climbers and polluted with waste, Mount Everest—one of the earth’s natural wonders—is in danger. How to fix the world’s highest peak.

By Mark Jennings
Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine October 2013

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Steps to Fix Everest
To prevent crowding on the mountain, some have proposed limiting the total number of permits per season and the size of each team to no more than ten clients per team. Others are skeptical. “That will not happen,” says New Zealander Guy Cotter, 50, owner of Adventure Consultants, which has led 19 expeditions to Everest. “Everest is big business for Nepal, and they will never turn down the money.”

Another way to make the mountain safer is with technology, says Conrad Anker, 50, who led our expedition in 2012. The mountain is already high-tech—everyone at Base Camp has access to a cell phone or the Internet—but last summer in a meeting with the Nepalese ministry, Anker proposed something new: identification cards issued with every climbing permit.

“The Everest ID would contain data that could save the life of a climber or Sherpa,” Anker explains. It would have the climber’s photo, of course, but more important, it would also have a QR code—a type of bar code. “Scanned with a smartphone, the QR code would reveal information such as age, experience, health history, allergies, emergency phone numbers, everything.” Anker says that bureaucrats just looked at him with blank faces when he tried to explain the benefits of the ID.

Despite all the problems on the mountain, Everest still stands alone. I’ll never forget the breathtaking view from our perch at Camp III, clouds rolling up the Western valley like a slow-motion reverse avalanche. Or the visceral relief of a cup of scalding soup at Camp IV. Or the crunch of my crampons in the crystalline labyrinth of the Khumbu Icefall just above Base Camp. I’ll always treasure the memory of climbing with friends.

Such moments are the reasons climbers keep coming back to Everest. It’s not simply about reaching the summit but about showing respect for the mountain and enjoying the journey. Now it’s up to us to restore a sense of sanity to the top of the world.

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