Dismay over mountains of rubbish left on Pakistan's K2

Two hundred people have reached the summit of the second-highest mountain in the world so far this year

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Rotten food, human waste, tattered tents and empty oxygen tanks were just some of the items left behind after a busy climbing season on Pakistan’s K2 mountain.

The second-highest peak in the world after Mount Everest, 200 people have climbed to its summit so far this year — compared to just 300 people in the past 70 years since climbers started ascending the mountain.

But with more climbers comes more rubbish.

The rubbish on K2 at camp 2 was so bad this year, our founder Nirmal Purja nearly threw up from the smell
Nimsdai Foundation

When mountaineer Nirmal Purja climbed K2 this year, he stumbled across hordes of items dumped by those who had attempted to summit the mountain before him, including human waste.

The founder of the Nimsdai Foundation posted a video on the charity’s social media pages to show the mess left behind.

Ripped tents lay strewn across the main base camp and around them were scatterings of empty gas canisters, food packaging and drinks bottles, among other rubbish.

“The rubbish on K2 at camp 2 was so bad this year, our founder Nirmal Purja nearly threw up from the smell,” the charity said.

A screengrab from a video posted on Nimsdai Foundation's Facebook page shows the rubbish left behind on K2. Photo: Nimsdai Foundation

“Rotting food and human waste, old tents and ropes cascading down the mountainside, frozen into the ice and leaching into the groundwater.

“It’s time for action. Today we are announcing our new project to tackle this disgusting waste pile at K2.”

After witnessing the shocking sights during his trek, Mr Purja has vowed to return to K2 next year with a team of volunteer mountaineers for the #BigMountainCleanup project.

For years, the foundation has travelled to the hugely popular Mount Everest for clean-ups, but with the number of climbers ballooning on K2, the treacherous mountain is their next target.

While some of the rubbish was fresh from the recent climbing season, Mr Purja said there was an accumulation of items still on the peak from decades ago, which they also plan to clear.

“This rubbish is an accumulation of nearly 70 years, since the first mountain ascents,” he said.

“It’s not just one season’s worth. It will take time to remove as it’s so ingrained in the ice. Cleaning at high altitude is very tough and labour intensive.

“Sometimes littering isn’t a choice. Sometimes it’s a matter of life and death.

“There are other factors that contribute to waste. Bad weather can wreck tents and gear left at higher camps for expeditions to use — which gets sealed into the ice.

“If a climber is ill or struggling, they need to get down the mountains asap — they may die if they stay to pick up their gear. It’s a very different situation to sea level, due to the lack of oxygen.”

Next year, the foundation said it plans to have a team of Sherpas who will clean the main climbing route on K2 full-time, removing old, used and dangerous ropes.

It said it will be a “challenging and expensive project” because of the remoteness of K2, and the foundation will have to pay for permits and full-time wages for Sherpas, who will need to be compensated as it will mean them missing the K2 climbing season.

Updated: August 31, 2022, 5:28 AM