Brent Bishop has been to the mountaintop. And he was appalled at what he saw.
Garbage, mostly. Tons of it. Strewn all over the upper reaches of Mount Everest. And Bishop, '93, wants to clean it up.
Ever since Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa partner, Tenzing Norgay, became the first to reach the summit, leaving trash behind has become a common practice by those who conquer the summit. Bishop, 28, whose father, Barry, was a member of the first American expedition to reach the summit, grew up with his father's climb and knew he would one day make it to the mountain himself. He currently works as a climbing guide, leading mountain tours in the U.S. and abroad.
In March 1994, while climbing Everest, Bishop was stunned by what he saw at Camp IV, the highest base camp on the south face of Mt. Everest, "a football field of trash." Nearly 10 tons of garbage--empty oxygen bottles, tents, rope, tin cans--was strewn everywhere. And there was even more at other base camps.
That climb was part of a special expedition Bishop had undertaken to clean up the mountain. Implementing an incentive program, Bishop's five-member team orchestrated the removal of more than 5,000 pounds of garbage, including more than 200 oxygen bottles. The program paid Sherpas above and beyond their salaries to collect and transport garbage to base camp.
The garbage was segregated into burnables, tin and glass, and the garbage was transported down by yaks. Tin and glass were flown to Katmandu and recycled, and oxygen bottles were shipped back to the U.S.
"The program worked so well because nobody was going up the mountain just to collect trash," says Bishop, a Washington, D.C. native who got his M.B.A from the UW in 1993. "The Sherpas who got the trash would have been coming down from the mountain empty-handed. So we just paid them to bring garbage down. It was a perfect way to combine environmental and economic goals."
Bishop is now turning his attention to an even higher goal: educating the climbing community. "By demonstrating that climbing teams can successfully reach the summit and conduct their expeditions in an environmentally friendly, sound manner, teams can visit the mountains with environmental foresight," says Bishop.
"Besides, it is so very symbolic. Mt. Everest is the highest spot in the world. It has to be clean." --Jon Marmor
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