On the big mountain, little things count | TahoeDailyTribune.com

On the big mountain, little things count

by Dan Thomas

Sierra-at-Tahoe ski patroller Nikki Campbell will be bringing more back from Mount Everest Base Camp than most other travelers who don’t have plans to summit.

Yes, that’s true in the figurative spiritual-growth sense because of the experiences Campbell expects along the way. But it’s also true in the literal sense, because when Campbell leaves Nepal, she’ll be taking along some of the debris that has turned the world’s highest mountain into its highest trash dump.

“I’m hoping that what we do is something other people will follow once we leave,” said Campbell, who left her apartment in South Lake Tahoe this week for a three-month position as the base camp manager and trekking guide for the first environmental expedition to Everest. Inventa, a San Jose, Calif. Internet firm, has signed on as the sponsor for the expedition, which will clean up Everest’s camps and study snow chemistry.

“They’re covering all the bases so well in being culturally, environmentally correct,” Campbell said. “They’re all such good ideas and it’s good to know humanity still exists in some ways, because in the end it’s the little things that count.”

Maybe the mountains alter perspective, but what Campbell calls the little things will have a big impact. Campbell has no interest in ascending to the world’s summit, but her steady presence in base camp will make the trip possible for those on the expedition who will. Those include Campbell’s climbing buddy Rob Chang of Woodside, Calif., Jamling Tenzing Norgay – the son of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa who helped Sir Edmund Hillary to the top – lead Sherpa Apa Sherpa, who will reset his own record with 11 expeditions to Everest’s summit, and 63-year-old climber Sherm Bull of Stamford, Conn., who will become the oldest man to summit Everest if the expedition goes successfully.

The little things, though, are the parts that let Campbell and the rest of the expedition leave its mark. Or, really, erase its mark and those of other teams. When the expedition comes in, the members will bring hermetically sealed drums to use as toilets, and bring enough to supply all the other expeditions on the mountain. They’ll carry the cameras they need to document the Sherpa culture that most expeditions ignore, and they’ll bring in food supplies with children’s clothes packed around them. And when they leave, they’ll take the empty oxygen bottles, medical waste, climbing gear and even human waste that has become the unfortunate legacy of Everest climbs.

The expedition will follow the popular Southeast Ridge route to the summit, where more teams are climbing each year. As it ascends four camps and nearly 9,000 feet to Camp IV and beyond, it will collect trash from each high camp to sort it, catalog it and package it for transport to the proper waste-management facilities. Teams – mostly Sherpa – will transport the trash to Namche Bazaar for incineration, while recyclables and non-recyclable waste will go to Katmandu, Nepal, then to the United States via India for disposal.

The other unfortunate legacy of Everest after the ill-fated 1996 expedition Jon Krakauer chronicled in “Into Thin Air,” seems to be the danger inherent in attempts at the peak. While the Inventa expedition travels to Nepal with an intent that’s very different, the risks are no less. If everything happens flawlessly for the veteran Himalaya climbers in Campbell’s group, that keeps the focus off Campbell and the other base camp managers. And that’s the way they’d rather have it.

While Campbell has no desire to reach the summit, she has taught climbing at Lake Tahoe Community College, and worked as a guide in Bear Valley, Calif. That, a degree in outdoor education from the University of New Hampshire, and a cool head from two years as a Sierra-at-Tahoe ski patroller, will come in handy no matter what on the trek in and out, and at base camp.

“There are a lot of things that will kind of overlap,” Campbell said.

But for all the trip’s lofty ideals, Campbell doesn’t appear to approach the expedition with a lot of wide-eyed wonder as she prepares to leave the San Jose airport for Los Angeles and eventually Bangkok, Thailand and Katmandu. Rather, her focus is practical. She knows solving bad situations on the mountain from base camp is a complicated, high-stakes guessing game, not something she can plan for. Likewise, Everest will be a tough physical journey, not a mystical one.

“It’ll definitely be beautiful,” Campbell said. “It’ll definitely be incredibly overwhelming. It’s like every other experience you’ve ever had: There are good things, there are bad things. You take away whatever you can for future use.”

Computer users can follow the expedition online at http://www.everestcleanup.com, and both South Shore LTD Sports outlets are selling expedition T-shirts to help raise money for the cleanup.

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