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Fischer Grant Winner Cleans Up Ama Dablam
May 2011 :: Nepal :: Himalaya

Allen Higginbotham, recipient of the 2011 Scott Fischer Memorial Conservation Fund Grant, offers this report of his trip to Nepal.  Allen hoped to clean up camps around Ama Dablam but hit a few speed bumps along the way.  Read on for his exciting tale!


Arriving in Katmandu for your first time I had an overwhelming feeling of being on the cusp of big adventure.  Smog blankets the city and hides the magical views of the great range that I had spent the last 6 months dreaming of.   Tyler Botzon and I hoped our stay in the smog of the ancient city would be kept short to a two night maximum. 7 days later we found ourselves in the Katmandu airport with what turned out to be slightly counterfeit plane tickets and wham, our trip to the Himalayas was underway. 

The plane touched down in Lukla and we were in the Himalayas. Everest still wasn’t visible and it would be a few days before Ama Dablam was visible.. Even from the start of the trail it was obvious that the culture in the Nepali Himalaya is different from what I’m used too. Having spent the last six years of my life in the Sierras, the amount of garbage just deposited on the trail was astounding.  Everything from plastic bottles, gold tobacco wrappers, old used underwear and blown out shoes lay in the trail, off to the side and up and down the hill sides that the trail cuts through as it makes its slow progress to its final destination, Everest Base Camp (E.B.C.). 

Our final destination was Pangboche, a village 2 or 3 days walk for a trekker from E.B.C. Less than 2 hours from Pangboche across the river lay Ama Dablam B.C. our home for the next 4 weeks and the mountain which had overwhelmed my mind for the previous 6 months. I had originally been inspired to remove fixed tat and trash off the southwest ridge of Ama Dablam after an experience of cleaning the Harding route on Mount Conness.  However, upon reaching B.C. and seeing many large poorly organized commercial expeditions I realized that I was no longer in the Sierra and quickly had to revise my plans for the clean up. 

What I found was a basin and river far worse than the climbing debris found in the Sierra. The southwest ridge turned out to be more of a political situation than an actual rock climb and removing any fixed ropes would have only been prudent if we were hoping to start minor armed conflict. The highly trained sherpa guides which, I had expected to encounter were all busy fixing ropes on Everest and the second rate guides on Ama Dablam quickly approached us for help with fixing Ama Dablam for the season. They threatened to charge us 10000 rupees a piece if we refused to help them move their 5000 feet of nylon boat rope up the ridge. We moved a single 200 m rope to C.1 to keep the scene from escalating. 

With bad weather coming through everyday we woke early established camp 1, spent two nights in a snow storm at 5900 m and then came back to B.C. to rest. During the next 2 weeks the weather only worsened and I used this opportunity to begin cleaning the trash from B.C. that, had been left by countless of commercial expedition. It seems that the norm for disposing of trash for these commercial expeditions either entails burning or stashing trash under boulders were it wouldn't blow away. The trash that wasn’t burned or buried found its way into the river, which snakes down from the glacier on the south face. Tyler and I spent days wandering the basin below the south face cleaning the river and finding stashes of trash from the past 2 or 3 decades. 

As weeks passed and the weather continued to deteriorate it became apparent that summitted was not possible for the season and we began to make plans to clean our gear from C.1. A half dozen other expedition had already bailed from C.1 and when we went to retrieve our gear we found that common practice for these commercial expedition was to take there tents down and leave their waste and spent fuels cans on the ridge to slowly rust.  We cleaned our gear and filled our packs with as much trash and old rope as we could and headed back to B.C. a bit depressed.  At B.C. I organized porters to take our collected trash to the dump in Namche, sorted personal gear and started to hike out of the Khumbu. Two days later I had successfully moved upwards of 60 kilos of trash to Namche and was relaxing at 12000’ drinking tea and eating prepared meals again.

While, we found the river and and B.C. basin had large amounts of trash accumulated in them, three outhouses have been built in the B.C. area to cut down on the human waste. These out houses seem to be doing a good job of keeping human waste at B.C. to a minimum and all the commercial groups that I saw while in B.C. respected them and used them instead of the normal hole in the ground which I am told is the norm for expedition B.C. where there is no outhouse. I believe that in order  to preserve these remote mountains  it is very important to take our values and conservation norms to the Himalayas. There will be no other way to keep theses places preserved unless we lead by example and show the local sherpa guides that it is economically viable to keep the mountains clean and free of trash.