Nepal using Drones to Clean Mount Everest ➤

Nepal using Drones to Clean Mount Everest

High-Altitude Guides in Nepal to Face Competition as Drones Deployed to Bring Back Garbage from Mount Everest

Nepali guides who risk their lives carrying heavy loads through the treacherous Khumbu Icefall on Mount Everest will soon face some competition – from drones. The Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural Municipality, home to the mighty 8,848-meter Everest peak, is testing heavy-lift drones to bring back garbage from the mountain.

While officials confirm the cargo drones will initially fly up to Camp II at 6,500 meters to collect trash, their success could impact the livelihoods of the high-altitude porters tasked with navigating the notorious Khumbu Icefall laden with tonnes of supplies.

“This is just a trial run,” said Jagat Prasad Bhusal, the rural municipality’s chief officer. “If successful, we’ll use drones extensively next season to retrieve garbage from Camp II. However, we haven’t discussed using them to transport supplies and reduce casualties in the Icefall.”

The Icefall, a treacherous glacier roughly a kilometer long that climbers must cross en route to Everest’s summit, has claimed nearly 50 lives since 1953, including 16 Sherpas buried by an avalanche in 2014 that forced that season’s cancellation.

To mitigate risks, the Icefall is typically crossed at night or early morning when ice is more stable. Still, last year, three more Sherpa guides perished in an avalanche, their bodies unrecovered.

“The Icefall has killed many high-altitude workers,” Bhusal noted. “Drones could help prevent such casualties, at least along that treacherous stretch.”

For this pilot, the municipality is using a Chinese DJI drone capable of reaching 6,500 meters with a 30kg payload. “After testing, we’ll buy drones through competitive bidding,” Bhusal added.

As Everest’s spring climbing season kicks off, over 400 permits have been issued, slightly fewer than last year’s record 479. However, garbage management remains a challenge, prompting strict new rules like GPS tracking, campsite area limits, mandatory toilet tents and biodegradable waste bags.

“No one can urinate or defecate openly anymore,” Bhusal stressed. “We’re determined to stop Everest becoming a minefield of poop that contaminates vital water sources downstream.”

While drones lighten porters’ dangerous burdens, their high-altitude heroics transporting supplies over the Icefall may become a relic of Everest’s history.