Mountaineers may have conquered the world’s highest peaks, but they didn't take only photographs and leave only footprints. The slopes of earth’s mightiest mountains are littered with discarded oxygen bottles, abandoned cooking gas canisters, ripped tents and tent poles, and all the other detritus of a thousand mountaineering expeditions.    

Everest base camp ©Meiqianbao/Shutterstock

For one mountaineer, enough was enough. Fresh from completing the first ever winter ascent of Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second highest peak, Nepali climber Nirmal ‘Nims’ Purja MBE has launched a new campaign to clean up the world’s highest mountains, one peak at a time.  

In 2019, the ground-breaking mountaineer emerged from relative obscurity – outside Nepal, at least – with an audacious plan to conquer all 14 of the world’s eight-thousanders (peaks over 8000m in height) in a single season. In the end, he completed the feat in just seven months, beating the previous world record by a staggering seven years, and pushing ‘Project Possible’ into the realms of mountaineering legend.  

Now, Nirmal Purja has turned his attention to tidying up the Himalaya, with the Great Mountain Cleanup, an ambitious campaign to carry tonnes of rubbish down from the peaks for processing and recycling, providing training and employment for local clean-up teams in the process. The first phase of the plan will target K2 during the 2021 summer climbing season, moving on to Mt Everest in 2022 and Manaslu in 2023.  

Сrumpled empty plastic bottle on the background of a Annapurna mountain range, Himalaya. Environmental pollution in the tourist regions of the Himalaya mountains.
The goal is to clean up each peak at a time ©,Shai-Halud/Getty Images

The objective is not just to physically clean up the mountains, but to nurture a culture of cleanliness, ensuring that mountaineers and local people work together to keep the mountains spotless in future. ‘It’s about playing our part for a bigger purpose,’ explains Purja. ‘We can help stop climate change, preserve biodiversity, but only if we all play a part.’ 

The climber’s Elite Himalayan Adventures expedition group is already leading by example, following a ‘clean as you go’ policy to make sure that the only evidence of their presence on the roof of the world is photos of summit celebrations.  

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