Image: Discarded oxygen canisters
Extreme Everest Expedition 2010
Discarded oxygen tanks are prepared for removal from Everest during an earlier clean-up expedition.
msnbc.com news services
updated 4/26/2010 12:25:37 PM ET 2010-04-26T16:25:37

Climbers have deployed to remove decades-old garbage from Mount Everest in the world's highest ever cleanup campaign.

Many foreign and Nepali climbers have picked up trash on Everest in the past, but the leader of the Extreme Everest Expedition 2010 said no one had dared to do it above 8,000 meters (26,246 feet) — an area known as the "death zone" due to the lack of oxygen and treacherous terrain.

Namgyal, who goes by one name, and his team of seasoned climbers are working in the zone's thin air and freezing temperatures to pick empty oxygen bottles, gas canisters, torn tents, ropes and utensils lying between an area known as the South Col and the 29,035 foot summit.

"This is the first time we are cleaning at that height, the death zone. It is very difficult and dangerous," said Namgyal, who has climbed the world's tallest peak seven times.

"The garbage was buried under snow in the past. But now it has come out on the surface because of the melting of snow due to global warming," the 30-year-old said.

The mountain has become known as being the world's highest garbage dump. Many climbers leave their gear and trash behind as they descend due to exhaustion and lack of oxygen.

"The rubbish is creating problems for climbers ... Some items of garbage are from Hillary's time," Namgyal said.

New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and Nepal's Tenzing Norgay Sherpa were the first to ascend to Mount Everest's summit in 1953. That feat opened Nepal as a popular tourist destination.

More than 4,000 climbers have since scaled the mountain and tourism, including climbing, is a key source of income for Nepal, among the world's poorest countries.

Garbage discarded on the mountain was a major environmental problem until the Nepalese government imposed strict rules about 15 years ago requiring visitors to return all of their gear and rubbish or risk losing a deposit.

It is unclear how much trash is left on the mountain, but several clean-up expeditions have brought down tons of garbage.

The Extreme Everest Expedition 2010 was launched on Sunday, with various treks planned through June 4.

Namgyal's team hopes to bring down at least 5,000 pounds of garbage as well as several bodies of climbers killed on Everest.

"We'll bring down the body of a Swiss climber who died in the mountain in 2008 and cremate it below the base camp for which we have got the family's consent," he said.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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