Nate’s Journey: 28 May

In the morning of my last day at Gorak Shep, we asked about, and confirmed that our prospective site never has surfacewater flow. We chatted with the owner of the guttered tea house. They said they added the system a year ago, with no failures and have harvested 2,000L during the monsoon. I don’t know how this was measured, but it’s the number we were given. The last order of business was measuring the distance from our site to the porters’ kitchen window and the lengths of the structure’s roof.

Just as I had given up on having a view of Sagarmatha from Gorak Shep, Mingma pointed her out to me before we started the hike down. I have no desire to risk putting my body on top of that place, I need it for some other things yet.

Anyway, on the hike down we found the current waste pit. It is quite wider than the older ones I’ve seen and located a few hundred meters from the terminus of a glacier. It was clear to see from the swath of cobble proceeding towards the Khumbu glacier below, that any leach from this pit will trickle down the basin and mingle with the valley’s waters. Once this pit is full, they will probably just make another here until in a decade or so they have to find another spot further down. Climbing on Mt. Everest isn’t about to stop anytime soon, and shallow burial is not a sufficient solution to the human waste problem here.

Of course I had to get next to the pit and take a few glamour shots, up close and personal. And when I did, I got stoked! There were multiple places where kitchen waste had clearly been thrown into the poop pit. This does make sense. If you didn’t have enough yaks to feed, and such stuff won’t burn well or compost at this temp & altitude; your best option is to put it somewhere you won’t have to smell it (much). Out of sight, out of mind.

The reason I got stoked was this clearly shows kitchen waste is available for our biogas digester. Coedigestion of human waste with food scrap improves biogas yield a good deal. Additionally, this means our project can help alleviate two solid waste issues faced at Gorak Shep.  There is a lot of work to be done on the design-side, as well as the community organization side. But by forming a local biogas committee, coedigesting organic waste at Gorak Shep will be possible. This site survey has shed light on the severity of the waste problem here and the escalating risk to the glacial waters of the sacred Himalayan mountains. But this issue can be surmounted, and we are on track to do so.

I am writing this now in Pangboche, more than 1000m below where I woke this morning. Mingma set a pace I was not about to fall short of, and we got here in about 5.5 hrs, even with stopping for two lunches. The same distance took me three days of walking last week, wow. Now on my descent through the Khumbu, I know this project is desired and supported by the locals, feasible despite the harsh conditions and completely necessary to mitigate the damage that has already been inflicted upon this magic place. The work of this trip is not over and I look forward to meeting with Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee soon.