k2 trash
(Photo/screen capture courtesy Flor Cuenca)

Trashed: One Climber Is Irate About Garbage on K2

Are you familiar with the Instagram hashtag #portlandlookslikeshit? Well, base camp at K2 doesn’t look much better. And as Portlanders did, one climber took to Instagram to broadcast her thoughts.

You’d have a fair point if you called Peruvian mountaineer Flor Cuenca a purist. Case in point: she summited K2 (28,251 feet) on July 27 without supplemental oxygen or support from Sherpas — just like she did on her previous five 8,000m summits.

You’d be equally accurate to call her K2 ascent an effort of “fair means,” which is a contract of respect between human and mountain that climbers adhere to.

At least most of them do. But according to Cuenca’s post, summit hopefuls on K2 have been doing the opposite: trashing the place.

In the quick Instagram footage, shredded remnants of decaying gear flap in the wind. Cuenca framed the problem with evocative inquiries aimed right at a group she includes herself in.

“[E]very time when we return from the mountain and especially after reaching the summit, we post our photos very proud,” she wrote. “I ask you. We are also proud of all the garbage we leave behind????? Isn’t it that we go to the mountains to enjoy pure nature, solitude, the magic of the mountains??? What pure nature can we talk about, when year after year we leave our waste there and it accumulates?”

She follows up by appearing to acknowledge that the state of modern high-altitude mountaineering demands long gear lists. Thanks to many comprehensively visible media placements, climbing is more popular than ever — by process, that means more clients for guide companies.

Cuenca does not lay blame on companies for accommodating their customers; but she does see a violation of the old “pack it in, pack it out” axiom.

“I have seen people upload with a huge materials to give comfort to their customers. They spend a lot of time carrying oxygen bottles, tents, and food. But when they descend there is only one way and they do not have the power to lower everything that has been transported upwards,” she explained.

She went on to point out that bad weather can force climbers to leave gear behind in order to save their lives. However, the weather’s not bad every day, even on K2.

To Satisfy Their Ego

Finally, Cuenca’s caption boiled over.

“WE ARE NOT MOUNTAINEERS, WE ARE SIMPLY A GROUP OF FOOL WHO CLIMB THE MOUNTAINS TO SATISFY THEIR EGO, USING EVERY MEANS WE CAN, BECAUSE A PASSIONATE MOUNTAINEER WOULD NOT DO THIS TO THE MOUNTAIN,” she asserted, then added “THANK YOU. I don’t want to hurt feelings, but what I say is the truth.”

So, is it the truth? It’s definitely hard to argue against; “pack out everything you pack in” is one of the most foundational principles of outdoor recreation. If I set aside the challenges and inherent woes of trash disposal at large — especially in a highly remote mountain range within a developing country — carrying your trash off the mountain seems like a reasonable cost of entry.

On K2, climbers and professionals alike must do better.

Andrzej Bargiel is seen during his Ski Expedition when he reached the summit of Yawash Sar II, the previously unconquered peak 6,178m and descended all the way down on skis in Karakoram, Pakistan on April 30, 2021.
Mountaineers Log 1st Ascent in Pakistan, Ski Down Without Supplemental O2
Red Bull's recently released adventure film 'Doo Sar: A Karakoram Ski Expedition' documents the action-packed first ascent and descent of Yawash Sar II, a 20,000-foot peak in the Karakoram range. Read more…
Sam Anderson
By

Sam has roamed the American continent to follow adventures, explore natural wonders, and find good stories. After going to college to be a writer, he got distracted (or saved) by rock climbing and spent most of the next decade on the road, supporting himself with trade work. He's had addresses in the Adirondack Mountains, Las Vegas, and somehow Kansas, but his heart belongs in the Texas hill country.