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Sherpa Team Cleans Up Everest Death Zone

For the first time, Sherpas are attempting to clean up the highest reaches of Mount Everest, where the melting of ice and snow due to global warming has revealed tons of debris left behind by climbers over the past six decades.

The team, known as the Extreme Everest Expedition, consists of 20 of Nepal’s most experienced Sherpas led by Namgyal Sherpa, who recently summited Everest for the eighth time. They are currently working in what is known as the “death zone,” the highest and most dangerous region of the mountain, at altitudes above 8,000 meters (26,246 feet), where they hope to remove two tons (4,400 pounds) of trash.

“The garbage was buried under snow in the past. But now it has come out on the surface because of the melting of snow due to global warming,” Namgyal Sherpa told Reuters. Earlier this year he explained to Discovery, “Everest is losing her beauty. The top of the mountain is now littered with oxygen bottles, old prayer flags, ropes and old tents. At least two dead bodies have been lying there for years now.”

Although both Nepal and Tibet, the only countries where expeditions to Everest can leave from, take a US$4,000 refundable garbage security deposit from climbers to discourage them from leaving their waste and unneeded belongings behind, climbers are less concerned with keeping the mountain clean than they are about surviving the climb.

“At this elevation, it becomes extremely difficult just to function, let alone worry about picking up after yourself at these extreme conditions,” Everest expert Lance Trumbull, who produced and directed “Everest: A Climb for Peace” and is the executive director of The Everest Peace Project, told Earth 911.

Since the expedition began in late April, the Sherpas have already recovered several bodies, including those of Swiss documentary filmmaker Gianni Goltz and Russian mountaineer Sergei Duganov.

As the BBC reports, the expedition’s removal of bodies has sparked controversy. Some families of climbers who perished on the mountain want their bodies to remain there, while the Sherpas claim that the dead bodies are polluting the mountain and need to be removed and cremated. Due to the extreme cold, bodies do not decompose, and since the 1950s, around 300 people have died attempting to reach the summit of Everest.

Chakra Karki, the expedition project coordinator, told the BBC that while the Nepalese respect the wishes of the families of those who have died on Everest, they do not want the mountain to become a graveyard.

“It is a holy mountain and our government policy is clear – there should be no dead bodies on the mountain,” said Karki. “All dead bodies should be brought below base camp and either buried or cremated. They shouldn’t pollute the mountain glaciers.”

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