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Climbers Eye Mount Everest Cleanup

April 5, 1998

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Since the first hikers reached the world’s highest peak in 1953, hundreds have followed in their footsteps, littering their paths with emptied oxygen bottles.

Now a team of American hikers wants to make the arduous trek up 29,000-foot Mount Everest just to pick up the trash. The 15-member Everest Environmental Expedition, led by Oakland physician Mark Cole, left for Nepal on Saturday.

``We’re going to try to clean up the whole mountain,″ said Cole, who is making his second trek to Everest.

The Nepalese government has threatened to fine climbers who fail to take their garbage. That’s helped reduce refuse at the Everest base camp, at an elevation of 17,600 feet.

But the highest camp, just 3,000 feet below the summit, is littered with about 750 oxygen bottles, 18-inch-long canisters weighing about 10 pounds each, Cole said.

In the reduced oxygen at that height, climbers don’t want the burden of carrying anything they no longer need. A single footstep can take eight breaths and hypoxia or oxygen shortage can kill brain cells, sometimes leading climbers into making fatal mistakes.

``It’s really difficult to bring that stuff down,″ said commercial mountaineering guide Keith Boskoff of Seattle. ``It’s hard to breathe and it’s hard to move.″

``You’re better leaving an oxygen bottle than dying bringing it out,″ he said.

Cole, 45, who trains by walking the east San Francisco Bay area hills while carrying a backpack loaded with weights, made it as far as the high camp in 1995.

On this trip, he and 11 other members of the group hope to reach the summit on May 10 while the rest remain at base camp. They’ll be accompanied by as many as eight local guides.

The bottles eventually will be brought back to the San Francisco Bay area, where the group hopes to sell them as Everest mementos for $156 each.

That will do little to offset the $25,000-per-person cost of the trip.

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