Mt Everest has a special place in the hearts of New Zealanders. After all, Sir Edmund Hillary, along with his companion Tenzing Norgay, were the first to climb the mountain in 1953. Since then, an estimated 3500 climbers who have reached the summit of Mt Everest. Countless others have died attempting the climb.

I have deliberately not used the word ‘conquer’. As Sir Edmund Hillary himself said, ‘It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves’. A mountain cannot be conquered. It is a place, holy, geographically important, a monument to the beauty of the world. It is not an enemy to be defeated. It is not a baddie and the climbers are not goodies.

In fact, as we have seen this week, quite the opposite it true. Mountain climbers are litterbugs just like the rest of us. The rubbish that has accumulated on Mt Everest in the last fifty or so years has not only dirtied the reputation of the climbers, but has shown that humankind’s bad habits reach over 8000m above sea level. Nowhere on earth is free from the destructive force of people!

The trouble with people is that they feel the need to own everything, or be in charge of everything, or someone show they are superior. They – like the motto of the Olympic Games – want to go faster, higher and be stronger. We all want to be better than someone else at something.

And what suffers? The mountain itself does. Tents, sleeping bags, supply bags, oxygen tanks, even coffee machines and portable DVD equipment have all been left behind on the mountain.

It’s as if Mount Everest is something to be ticked off a list of things to do. You or I might go on holiday to, say, Auckland, Napier, Queenstown or even Sydney and visit certain famous places. Climbers with enough money can pay NZ$ 40 000 to get a guided climb of Everest. It doesn’t mean it’s any easier, but it does mean that it’s more popular. And more popular means more people. And more people means more litter.

Now climbers are being asked to bring down other climbers’ rubbish – 8kg each!

Climbers must clean up after themselves. Not doing so shows amazing disrespect to the mountain and to those who have to clean up after them. Climbing Mt Everest is a privilege and not a right. If you read about Sir Edmund Hillary’s climb in 1953, he talks about the mountain with huge respect. And all of the natural world – not just Mt Everest – deserves our respect.

After all, what goes up must come down eventually.

Article written by Ben Egerton

Critical Thinking Challenges:

1. What makes people climb mountains?

2. Why do some people – not just mountaineers on Mt Everest – think that other people will clean up after them?

Practical Tasks:

1. Litter is a huge problem, not just on Mt Everest. Think about your school, your street, your neighbourhood parks, playgrounds and reserves, what can be done to prevent littering? With your friends or classmates design a campaign that helps to prevent littering. (Try and think beyond just signs and slogans and see if you can give people a reason not to litter.)

2. Inquire into what equipment is needed to mount an expedition to climb a mountain like Everest. Draw up a list of that equipment, food, clothing, shelter, using words, pictures and photographs. Think about the ways in which it all gets up the mountain, and how it should get back down again. Who and what is involved in an expedition on Everest?





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