Latest news from the Himalaya and Karakoram

Monday, 26 June 2017

The Mountain Company pledge and testimonial for AITO Project PROTECT

Earlier this year Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) launched Project PROTECT in recognition of the important role that destinations play in the future of the travel industry. The aim of this project is to encourage sustainable tourism and to nurture the destinations for tomorrow's travellers. The PROTECT acronym stands for People / Resources / Outreach / Tourism / Environment / Conservation / Tomorrow.

This project is led by Professor Xavier Font of the University of Surrey and each AITO member has to publish an annual pledge and report back at the end of the year on how they got along. For more information take a look at ----> AITO Press release

The Mountain Company pledge is as follows: Collecting at least 120kg of rubbish/ trash in the Himalaya and Karakoram during 2017

"Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.” This is part of the Leave No Trace philosophy encouraging people to minimise their environmental impact when exploring the great outdoors. At The Mountain Company we want to go further by picking up rubbish/ trash found along the trekking trails and around the campsites. We have received client feedback that rubbish is a big problem and this unsightly mess has detracted from their holiday experience. By picking up litter this activity will make the environment cleaner and will help to maintain the natural beauty of the Himalaya and Karakoram mountains.

In 2017, we will ask each of our groups to pick up at least four sacks of rubbish during their Himalayan trek. Each sack will weigh approximately 1kg so each group will have a target of 4kg of rubbish to collect. During 2017 our thirty groups travelling to Nepal, Pakistan, Bhutan and India will therefore pick up a total of at least 120kg of litter.

Our guides and trekkers will work together to collect rubbish and this will develop camaderie and teamwork. The group will feel good about helping to make a difference. Our groups will talk to others to explain what they are doing aiming to inspire more trekkers to pick up rubbish too. By working together with our customers The Mountain Company wants to improve the environment of our destinations to help more people to enjoy these places in the future.

Photo: Pasang Sherpa collecting rubbish in Everest region
We will be in touch with our clients in due course to explain how we plan to go about meeting our pledge and how they can help if they would like to do so.

*Update January 2018* Our testimonial to explain how we got along and the final outcome of our 2017 Project Protect

The Mountain Company would like to thank our guides and trekkers for enthusiastically embracing our AITO Project Protect pledge to help make the environment in the Himalaya and Karakoram cleaner. Our local crew members believe that the mountains are the Abode of The Gods and therefore our efforts were aligned with their religion and culture. Our initial pledge was to remove 120kg of rubbish, and this was exceeded with over 350kg removed by 64 of our trekkers from trails and camp sites in Nepal, Bhutan and India during 2017.

We provided our groups with rubbish bags, gloves and tongs for picking up rubbish, and electronic scales to measure progress. The feedback from our trekkers was very positive; as one person commented “Love your green initiative and practices to ensure minimal impact on the environment.” As well as physically removing rubbish, our intention was to start the process of changing the attitude among other trekking groups and locals to encourage them to reduce their environmental impact too. Our actions initiated discussions among other trekking groups and some of them were inspired to follow our lead and pick up rubbish too. This multiplied the impact of our pledge.

A lot was learnt about collecting rubbish in our trek areas. For example, in comparison to other areas, Sagarmatha (Everest) National Park in Nepal has the best infrastructure for collection, with a network of bins organised and emptied regularly and an incinerator in Namche Bazaar. In spite of this, there was still a significant amount of rubbish strewn about in the park. Our Everest region groups picked up 98kg, 28% of the total collected. Further efforts are required to encourage people to use the bins provided.

In practice we made a relatively small step in the right direction however there is much more to be done to promote the philosophy of leaving no trace (“Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints”) in the Himalaya and Karakoram. To address this problem and to make long term change will require further input from trekking operators, national parks, tourist boards and associations in these countries.

Roland Hunter

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