Ever since Edmund Hillary and sherpa Tenzing Norgay reached the top of Mount Everest in 1953, thousands have climbed to the highest point on Earth.
Standing tall at a height of 8,849 metres, Mount Everest remains an attraction, but popularity also brings with it a significant waste problem. Cleaning up Mount Everest has now become an environmental concern.
This is what spurned Mark Galea Pace, founder of Coast is Clear, a foundation that carries out public clean-up campaigns, to trek up Mount Everest.
For him, this was an environmental mission as much as a fun adventure.
Mark contacted MaltaToday from his cabin after an eight-hour walking expedition to speak of his adventure, describing the scenery as simply breath-taking.
“This journey taught me to believe in myself. To keep going, step after step, no matter the odds, no matter the pain,” Mark said.
The journey to Mount Everest proved to be testing for the activist. Starting from the very beginning, when leaving Malta to Nepal, Mark had his flight cancelled several times.
“It was more difficult to get here than to climb that mountain,” Mark recounted while laughing.
The climber experienced a series of cancelled and fully booked flights, first due to increased traffic to Istanbul following the Turkey earthquake, and then due to Storm Helios spreading over the Mediterranean.
“My wife and kid regarded it as a warning that something bad was about to happen if I left for Nepal and begged me not to go,” he explained.
Mark eventually flew from Malta to Rome, where he grabbed a flight to Qatar and then another to the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu.
On the Saturday of arriving there he met six strangers who became his family in the arctic conditions of Everest.
“There’s a sherpa guide, five Nepalese porters, and myself. The porters were meant to stop at the base camp, but they appreciated my dedication and continued cleaning with me the trails as well,” Mark said.
Despite several clean-up efforts over the years, the Everest Summiteers Association believes that the Earth’s highest peak is coated in around 30 tonnes of garbage.
Mark’s cleaning party gathered some 25 big bags, equivalent to 60kg of trash. However, they only cleaned the base camp, sitting at a height of 5,364m.
“You require special permissions to reach Camp One to Four,” Mark explained, before giving a cheeky smile and indicating that his plans might take him there in the future.
The temperatures could get as low as -5°C during the day and even lower the closer you get to the summit.
Without excluding people who litter simply because they are ignorant on the serious risks posed to surrounding communities, Mark blames the cold conditions tiring people and causing them to forget to pick up their trash or gather their equipment.
While pausing to catch his breath, Mark tells MaltaToday, that this adventure was not all plain sailing.
With similar symptoms to that of a hangover, Mark suffered altitude sickness three days into the journey.
Dizziness, headache, nausea and muscle aches, together with the scorching agony of sciatica, Mark at times questioned his decision to embark on this arduous trek.
“I was missing my wife and my son. I wished I could cuddle my dog. I was weeping for the last two hours of the trip,” he said.
Many people were drawn to this voyage because of the awareness it raised, but it was the Maltese flag that drew the most attention. The white and red flag fluttering against a background of ice-covered mountains inevitably causes shivers for islanders unaccustomed to such environments.
The Everest trip was somewhat of a spiritual journey for a man who has made it a mission to clean up land and sea.
In summer, Mark regularly travels by boat and a cooler full of beer for energy to clean up the seas. Throughout the winter, he travels with his truck and spreads awareness with his team.
Mark’s journey is on Facebook page Coast is Clear