Nepali climbers have retrieved four bodies and collected some 11 metric tonnes of decades-old garbage from Mount Everest and its approach below the base camp as part of a drive to clean up the world’s highest mountain, the government said on Wednesday.

Climbers returning from the 8,850-metre mountain say its slopes are littered with human excrement, used oxygen bottles, torn tents, ropes, broken ladders, cans and plastic wrappers left behind by climbers — an embarrassment for a country that earns valuable revenue from Everest expeditions.

The garbage, along with the bodies of some of the 300 people who have died over the years on Everest’s slopes, are buried under the snow during winter, but become visible when the snow melts in summer.

A cleanup team of 20 sherpa climbers collected five tonnes of litter in April and May from different camps sites above the base camp and another six tonnes from the areas below, said Dandu Raj Ghimire, director general of the Department of Tourism.

“Unfortunately, some garbage collected in bags at the South Col could not be brought down due to bad weather,” Ghimire said in a statement on Wednesday.

Everest was first conquered by New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953. About 5,000 people have since reached the summit. South Col, on the Southeast Ridge route pioneered by Hillary and Tenzing, is located at some 8,016 metres, and it is the site of the final camp from where climbers begin their summit attempts.

Bodies at 2 different sites

Cleaning campaign coordinator Nim Dorjee Sherpa, head of the village where Mount Everest is located, told Reuters two bodies were collected from the treacherous Khumbu Icefall and two from Camp Three site at the Western Cwm.

“They were exposed from the snow when the sherpas picked up and brought them down,” he said.

None of the four bodies have been identified and it was not known when they died.

Workers from a recycling company display some of the garbage from Mount Everest in the latest cleanup. There were also cleanup efforts in April and May that yielded tonnes of waste. (Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters)

Nine mountaineers died on the Nepali side of Everest in May while two perished on the Tibetan side, making it the deadliest climbing season since 2015.

Climbers returning from Everest have talked of crowding and delays on the Nepali side just below the summit in the “death zone,” so-called because at that altitude the lack of oxygen can be fatal. However climbers and guides have blamed a host of factors for the deaths.

Ghimire, of the Department of Tourism, said the deaths were not because of congestion but due to bad weather and short summit windows.

Nepal this year issued 381 permits to Everest, costing $11,000 US each, an important source of income for the cash-strapped nation.

Elia Saikaly has climbed Mount Everest eight times. He’s reached the top three times. But after his most recent climb, Saikaly is wondering if he can ever go back again. He was one of many climbers caught in the ‘traffic jam’ at more than 8000 meters elevation – and the deaths he saw along the way made him ask himself if the suffering is worth it. Today on Front Burner, Ottawa-based filmmaker Elia Saikaly on his latest Everest climb and what he thinks can be done to prevent more deaths. 20:02