Mirpuri Foundation sponsored an expedition to Everest in April 2017, lead by its President Paulo Mirpuri. Mount Everest, also known in Nepal as Sagarmatha and in Tibet as Chomolungma, is Earth’s highest mountain.
Its peak is 8,848 meters above sea level. Everest and surrounding mountains, also known as the Third Pole, are the source of some of Asia’s largest rivers and also help to regulate our planet’s climate. The region is also the birthplace of the Buddha, and is full of sacred natural sites such as secret valleys and high mountain lakes that predate ancient Hinduism.
The Himalayas face many challenges. Forests are strained as demand continues to grow for timber and food crops. Protected areas are becoming isolated pockets, and international criminal networks are emptying forests of rare wildlife to feed the voracious illegal market. The impact of global climate change is melting the once Himalayas at a rate faster than ever recorded in human history, jeopardizing a vital source of freshwater for billions of people in Asia,
Mirpuri Foundation expedition members included its President Paulo Mirpuri, his brother Luis Mirpuri and the well known mountaineer João Garcia. The Serdar (Sherpa team leader) was Sonam Sherpa.
João Garcia is sole Portuguese that summit Mount Everest without Oxygen and one of the very few people that summit all the 14 mountains above 8.000 meters without oxygen. It is considered a national hero and one of the best mountaineers in the world. João Garcia knows Nepal very well, he returns to the Himalayas almost every year for the last 20 years. Along the 150 kilometers and two week trekking from Lukla to the slopes of Everest were a rare opportunity to speak and learn a lot about the region, the histories of previous expeditions and even many mountaineering technics.
The Everest expedition, probably the most difficult and most dangerous one can imagine, reflects well the hands-on-job, ready for action approach of the leadership of the Mirpuri Foundation. The main goal of the Expedition was to analyze the repercussion of the Climate Change in one of the most remote areas of our planet. Earth’s average surface temperature has gone up more than 1,5 degrees since the late 1800’s, and two thirds of that warming has taken place since 1975.
Of the roughly 198,000 glaciers on the planet, more than a quarter is found in the Himalayas. But even this remote location of ice and snow- home to nine of the world’s 10 highest peaks- is reeling from climate change. Many Himalayan glaciers are receding- and a new study of 32 glaciers around Mount Everest has found that those terminating in lakes have lost more ice mass than landlocked glaciers. That’s a worrying trend because many glacial lakes form behind unstable debris dams that are poised to collapse and send disastrous floods hurtling down valleys.
What has been possible to assess during the expedition thru direct observation, visiting the observation centers and by speaking with the mountaineers and Sherpa’s that have been living or visiting the area for the last 30 years could not be more worrying- The Khumbu Glacier is shrinking fast and the Khumbu Icefall is showing an higher frequency of rock and ice avalanches. The Icefall is migrating downhill a meter a day, and that is accelerating as temperature rise. Meltwater naturally pools on the surface of the Khumbu Glacier during the warmer months, then drains and reforms as the seasons change. The issue now is that the ponds don’t disappear, but instead coalesce into small lakes. Some studies we had access to during the expedition show that the ponds on the lower part of the Khumbu Glacier increased in size by 84% from 2009 to 2016. It’s a positive feedback cycle: a small pond absorbs more radiation than if would if it was rock, and that heats the water, which melts more ice, and the pond gets bigger and bigger. At some point, the side of one of the lakes my break, sending water and debris cascading down into the villages in the Khumbu Valley below. Imja Tsho, a large glacial lake in the Everest region, is located just above the Chukhung Valley, which has a number of villages we have passed thru, like Dingboche, and has been widely recognized for its potential to flood the valley below.
Himalayan glaciers are losing ice mass because of decreased snowfall and higher average air temperatures that melt existing ice. The landscape is primed for lake development. Bigger lakes may increase the risk of catastrophic dam failure.
Most of the glaciers in the Mount Everest region will disappear or drastically retreat as temperature increase with climate change over the next century. The estimated 5,500 glaciers in the Everest region could reduce their volume by 70% to 99% by 2100, with dire consequences for farming and hydropower generation downstream. Some glaciers around Everest had shrunk by 13% in the last 50 years with the snow line 180 meters higher than it was 50 years ago. The glaciers are disappearing faster every year, with some smaller glaciers now only half the size they were in the 1960’s. Traditional water springs have dried up, limiting the water supply. Farmer’s crops suffer from changing patterns of rainfall, which threatens the food security of the local people. Warmer temperatures and changing humidity have brought insect pests and disease to areas where they were previously absent.
But the climate change crisis is not affecting the glaciers only, but increasing the danger of extinction for some already endangered species. The Eastern Himalayas harbor an amazing diversity of life. There are 163 globally threatened species found in the Himalayas, including Asia’s three largest herbivores- Asian elephant, greater one-horned rhinoceros and wild water buffalo- and its largest carnivore, the tiger. The Himalayan grasslands have the densest population of Bengal tigers, which live alongside Asian elephants and one-horned rhinos. The mountains offer refuge for red pandas, golden langurs and takins. This is the only known location in the world where the Bengal tigers and snow leopards share habitat. The breadth of natural biodiversity in the Eastern Himalayas is complemented by a rich mosaic of cultures, traditions and people. Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Animists have lived closely with nature for centuries and have created a culture of conservation. People ensure that their traditional activities are sustainable by practicing small-scale agriculture and effective community management.
Mirpuri Foundation is very active in wildlife conservation and in particular is supporting the reintroduction of the Persian Leopard in the Caucasus. In the Everest expedition we were very surprised to see its “cousin” Snow Leopard also in crisis.
Warming temperatures could cause over a third of the endangered big cats habitat to become uninhabitable. Climate change could cause the tree line to shift up the mountains and cause farmers to plant crops and graze livestock at higher altitudes, squeezing the snow leopards into smaller ranges where they are more likely to come into conflict with humans. The conversion of forest for agriculture and exploitation for timber, fodder and fuel wood threaten the biodiversity in this region. Charcoal production in the low elevation areas and intensive grazing at higher elevations also threatens forests. .
Conflict with communities in the high mountains, who see leopards as a threat to livestock and human lives, along with poaching, habitat loss and a reduction in numbers of prey have seen numbers of the snow leopard fall 20% in the last 16 years. With numbers as low as 4,000, snow leopards would face increasing pressure from climate change, which could reduce them to unsustainable numbers in many populations. The frequency of human-wildlife conflict increases as human populations grow and more land is cleared. Levels of conflict heighten and tolerance decreases when traditional practices are interrupted.
But the Snow Leopard is not he only victim in the slopes and valleys around Everest. The following species are also suffering:
- Himalayan Tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus)- not endangered or threatened, but the only remaining member of the Hemitragus genus. They are not protected, in fact the governments are trying to limit their growth by poisoning and hunting them;
- Himalayan Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus)- these bears roam along the base of Mount Everest and eat berries and occasionally small game. They are a nocturnal animal, they sleep in caves during the day and hibernate during the winter. Sadly, they have been declared a vulnerable species, due to hunting and deforestation;
- White bellied musk deer (Moschus leucogaster)- they are endangered due to overexploitation, and they are hunted because their musk is used in perfumes, as musk can be sold for 45.000 USD per Kilogram. Only males produce the musk, but females and young caught in snares anyway.
- Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens)- these pandas are about the size of housecats. They live in the lower portions of the mountain and feed on leaves. They are threatened due to hunting and habitat loss.
Cleaning up Mount Everest
Mount Everest, the tallest summit in the world, has inspired and attracted people from all over the world ever since the first attempts to scale the mountain in the 1920’s. Nepal is one of the world’s poorest countries and tourism is a major source of revenue, especially for struggling mountain communities. The enormous increase in visitors to the Everest region has resulted in severe and negative effects on its sensitive environment. But behind them, they have left a trail of destruction- creating an average of 50 tons of rubbish, including discarded oxygen canisters, climbing gear and food packaging, every year. The problem escalated to the point where the fragile ecosystem of the Himalayas was under threat. Despite the clean-up efforts retrieving tons of garbage from the mountain, and forcing expeditions members to take back their trash, empty oxygen bottles and other lost or abandoned gear remain scattered on the peak. Perhaps the most disturbing is the view of corpses that could not be safely removed, a silent reminder of the perils involved in attempting to reach such extreme heights. Some of the bodies have been lying in the same spot for decades, becoming part of the route’s landscape. There are currently no functioning waste management systems in place and little local knowledge or experience of handling such large amounts of rubbish in an environmentally sustainable way.
Mirpuri Foundation support projects with the aim to conserve and manage the rich biodiversity of Nepal’s Everest National Park, with emphasis on solid waste management and on supporting and strengthening local communities as care takers of biodiversity conservation.
Mirpuri Foundation is currently in talks with a number of local institutions to promote the following actions:
- Clean up expeditions on Mount Everest to remove rubbish from the mountain;
- Installation of rubbish and recycling facilities along the trekking route from the airstrip of Lukla to Everest Base camp;
- Promotion of a new set of regulations and code of conduct for all future trekking and climbing activities in the area;
- Increase awareness on biodiversity conservation, modern waste management and climate change to local people
- Removal and ban of plastic bags and its use in the region
Expeditions — 17 April 2020
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