Just before dawn on 16 May, UN Environment Programme Patron of the Wilderness Ben Fogle reached the summit of Mount Everest, marking the realization of a lifelong dream for the British broadcaster and adventurer.
Speaking from Everest, Fogle said: “It has been an extraordinary journey to achieve a childhood dream to summit Mount Everest, and so do so safely and successfully with my guide Kenton Cool, and our incredible Sherpa team including Siddhi Tamang."
Besides being a personal achievement, Fogle's climb also served to highlight the issue of waste in the mountains.
“My role as UN Environment Patron of the Wilderness allows me to celebrate and share the beauty of the wilderness with the world. I want to give the wilderness a voice to help highlight what we have before we lose it," Fogle said. "As a UN Environment Mountain Hero, I have shared the adventure with people around the globe to show the magic of the Himalayas whilst also drawing attention to emerging environmental issues in mountains such as mountain litter as part UN Environment’s efforts to promote clean mountains following their Waste Management Outlook Report for Mountains.”
All waste generated by the expedition team was removed from the mountain and recycled or disposed of in Nepal or Europe. Fogle hopes his expedition will inspire others climbers to take responsibility for their own waste, instead of leaving it behind on the mountain.
In recent decades, mountain litter has emerged as a growing environmental threat, affecting both high altitude communities and the people living below them. Waste disposal in isolated mountain communities has always been an issue, but this problem has been exacerbated by the introduction of plastics, metals and other non-biodegradable products.
The rise of mountain tourism, specifically activities such as treks and mountaineering expeditions, has created new streams of waste that are often dumped on the sides of trails, camps, or in glacier crevasses. Plastic food packaging, broken gear and even bodies are left in hard-to-reach mountain areas.
The impact on Everest is especially noteworthy. The number of visitors to the Khumbu region, where Everest is located, has risen from 20 in 1964, to around 36,000 in 2012. This influx of people has also brought an increasing amount of trash; after 60 years of expeditions, it is estimated that up to 140,000 kg of solid waste remain in the area. Some progress has been made recently and local groups have set an ambitious goal of removing 90,000 kg of trash in 2018, but much remains to be done.
A primary concern for Fogle was ensuring the team made an ethical climb, both with regard to the environment and the local communities that supported the expedition. This meant ensuring that all Nepalese Sherpas were paid fair wages and that no one involved was taken advantage of. By supporting local communities and promoting “leave no trace” climbing practices, he hopes to inspire others to do the same.
The expedition was not without risk, as Fogle’s climbing partner, double Olympic medalist Victoria Pendleton CBE, was forced to abandon the summit due to acclimatization issues beyond her control.
"I am eternally grateful to Her Royal Highness Princess Haya and her global initiative, Anything Is Possible, for making this entire adventure possible, and providing the opportunity for us to help promote the work of the British Red Cross and my work as UN Environment Patron of the Wilderness," Fogle said from the summit.
Learn more about waste management in mountain regions.