When you’re swinging a paintbrush, you’re on the home straight. Anyone who has ever built a house or renovated an apartment knows this. When you can apply paint, the rough work is done and you can start to make it beautiful. Because it’s clear that you’ll soon be able to move in. This is what is currently happening to the people in the mountain village of Rama in Humla District in the far west of Nepal with their new school, which will soon be ready for use thanks to “School up – far west” and your donations.
“The two buildings, the two toilet blocks and the kitchen wing are currently being completed,” writes Shyam Pandit, the program coordinator of Nepalhilfe Beilngries in the Himalayan state. “I have sent a team of painters from Kathmandu to do the painting work.”
Bringing the excrements down from Mount Everest is one thing, what happens to it in the valley is another. As reported, from this spring onwards, all mountaineers on the Nepalese south side of Mount Everest and on the neighboring eight-thousander Lhotse will have to collect their excrement in special “poo bags” and bring it back to base camp. This news made headlines around the world. But virtually no one asked what should happen to the faeces afterwards.
The poo bags will probably also be put into the blue garbage cans that have been used to collect faeces at base camp since 1996. So-called “shit porters” then carry the garbage cans down the valley, where their contents are disposed of in pits near Gorak Shep (at 5,180 meters) or Lobuche (4,940 meters), the last settlements before the base camp. A careless behaviour.
It stinks to high heaven. This is now to be a thing of the past on the highest mountain on earth. Anyone who wants to climb Mount Everest or the neighboring eight-thousander Lhotse from the Nepalese south side from this spring onwards must buy so-called “poo bags” at base camp and use them if they need to relieve themselves on the mountain.
“Our mountains have begun to stink,” Mingma Sherpa, head of the local administration of the Khumbu region, told the BBC: “We are getting complaints that human stools are visible on rocks and some climbers are falling sick. This is not acceptable and erodes our image.”
It’s not just Mount Everest in the Himalayas and Mont Blanc in the Alps that are overcrowded during the climbing season. Mount Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan, is also one of the prestige mountains that more people climb than nature can handle.
If the regional government of Yamanashi Prefecture has its way, no more than 4,000 people per day will be allowed to climb Mount Fuji from next summer onwards. In addition, summit aspirants will have to pay a climbing fee of 2,000 yen (13.50 US dollars) for the 3,776-meter-high volcano. “Keeping the number of climbers in check is an urgent task as we observe overcrowding,” said Yamanashi governor Kotaro Nagasaki, explaining the package of measures, which he intends to submit to the regional parliament this month.
It could have turned out worse. Denis Urubko wanted to climb up to Camp 2 at 6,400 meters on the eight-thousander Gasherbrum I in Pakistan at the weekend. However, at an altitude of 5,500 meters, Denis says he fell into a six to seven meter deep crevasse in the icefall. After an hour, his Pakistani climbing partner Hassan Shigri managed to help Urubko out of the crevasse. By this time, it had started to snow. “We spent a bad night and descended to base camp,” Urubko told the Spanish mountaineering portal desnivel.com. “I have frostbite on my fingers and can’t continue the expedition.” I’ll spare you the less than appetizing picture of his fingers. It shows that climbing is out of the question for Denis for the time being.
After the Spaniard Alex Txikon and his companions on Annapurna I in western Nepal abandoned their expedition and returned home, Denis Urubko is the only remaining mountaineer still hoping for success on an eight-thousander this winter: on Gasherbrum I, also known as Hidden Peak, in the Karakoram in Pakistan.
Together with his Pakistani companion Hassan Shigri, the 50-year-old climbed through the icefall above the base camp towards Camp 1 (5,900 meters) and deposited equipment. Urubko reported to his partner, the Spanish climber Pipi Cardell, that he had had to break trail through a 30 to 80 centimeter high layer of snow. Denis plans to continue climbing alone from Camp 2 at around 6,400 meters.
“I cannot afford to expose my companions any further,” writes Alex Txikon on Instagram today, “and so, after discussing and meditating all morning, we have decided to say yes to life, leaving behind our pretensions of continuing to try.”
On Thursday, Txikon’s team had abandoned the ascent towards the summit of Annapurna I at Camp 3 at 6,400 meters and returned to base camp. In the days before, it had stormed heavily on the 8,091-meter-high mountain in western Nepal. The material deposited in Camp 3 a week earlier had been blown into a crevasse.
“Over there, the altitude, plus the temperature, plus the wind, plus the exhaustion make us fight for every step,” said Maciej Berbeka after his return from the eight-thousander Manaslu in western Nepal. “It’s simply a nightmare.” On 12 January 1984 – 40 years ago today – the Polish climber reached the summit of the eighth highest mountain on earth with his compatriot Ryszard Gajewski. It was the first winter ascent of Manaslu and the first ascent of an eight-thousander without bottled oxygen.
Incited by Messner
Expedition leader Lech Korniszewski, a 47-year-old doctor and mountaineer from Zakopane, the highest town in Poland, had gathered a young team around him. The average age of the climbers was 31; Berbeka and Gajewski were 29 years old. The two had been friends since childhood, their fathers worked together at the mountain rescue service in Zakopane. The team chose the so-called “Tyrolean route” through the South Face, which Reinhold Messner had opened in spring 1972. Messner had incited the Poles with his words that he did not believe that the route he had first climbed was possible in winter.
This is the climbers’ third so-called rotation on the eight-thousander in western Nepal. The main aim is to acclimatize further. On the last round a week ago, the team brought equipment up to Camp 3 at around 6,700 meters. Due to stormy gusts in the summit area, the climbers did not continue their ascent but returned to base camp.
“Although December is a very good and pleasant month in Nepal – I would say it is the best month of the year – the wind has made us suffer a lot,” Alex Txikon wrote on Instagram the day before yesterday. “It has blown between 70-80 km/hour, and we stopped very close to Chulu Far East, 6,059m. It is a nice mountain, but the wind has made us suffer … The most important thing is that we have spent many nights at high altitudes.” The 42-year-old Spaniard and his team are currently acclimatizing in the region around the eight-thousander Annapurna I in western Nepal for a winter attempt on the tenth highest mountain on earth.
As a child, I dreamed of becoming an astronaut. In the end, I didn’t go to the moon. And yet I am still fascinated by space travel. Manpura, Saphal and Prabhav from the small mountain village of Rama in the far west of Nepal also dream big about their future. The fact that these dreams seem more realistic than my astronaut dream from back then is thanks to you donors for “School up – far west” – the aid project that I launched in mid-2022 and which is also supported by top Austrian mountaineer Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner.
With your money and the expertise of Nepalhilfe Beilngries, the construction of the new school in the village in Humla District goes on. “I’ve experienced studying in a school with a makeshift roof, facing challenges like wind, rain, and clouds. Today, I express heartfelt gratitude to the Nepalhilfe organization for enhancing our school’s standards,” says Prabhav Shahi. The eleven-year-old is in sixth grade and dreams of one day working in a position of responsibility in his home country of Nepal.
The gap between what would be necessary in times of climate change and what is actually being implemented is wide. “Over 311 million rural mountain people in developing countries live in areas exposed to progressive land degradation, 178 million of whom are considered vulnerable to food insecurity,” the United Nations announced on today’s International Mountain Day. “This problem affects us all. We must reduce our carbon footprint and take care of these natural treasures.”
The reality is different. At the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 28), which ends tomorrow (Tuesday), the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is set to veto all formulations aimed at reducing fossil fuels, as the “undue and disproportionate pressure” could reach a tipping point “with irreversible consequences”, as stated in a letter from OPEC Secretary General Haitham al-Ghais to all members of the oil cartel. Perhaps the oil sheikhs should be sent to the Himalayas so that they can get an idea of the already obvious consequences of climate change on the mountain regions.
When Thomas Huber talks about freedom in the mountains, his eyes light up. “Mountains are so much more than just a name, an ascent or a record,” the older of the two Huber brothers tells me. “Mountains give you the opportunity to find something very special. Within yourself. Your inner freedom.” Thomas is now 57 years old. After losing his hunting dog Cerro, who was run over last winter, he decided to give up expeditions this year. Instead, he concentrated on training his new dog Torre – and returning to his mountaineering roots: extreme climbing.