KATMANDU, Nepal – KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — A team of 20 Sherpa mountaineers plans to remove bodies of climbers who died in Mount Everest's "death zone," a treacherous stretch that has claimed some 300 lives since 1953, the team leader said Monday.
The team also aims to remove tons of garbage left behind on the slopes under a Nepalese government program to clean up the popular tourist destination.
The 20 Sherpas plan to begin the expedition May 1 and set up camp at the South Col, 26,240 feet (8,000 meters) above sea level, team leader Namgyal said. Just above the South Col is the "death zone" area known as the toughest stretch for climbers because of low oxygen levels and rough terrain.
The team said it plans to remove at least five bodies from a narrow trail between South Col and the summit, but has not identified them. In the past bodies have generally been removed only from lower elevations, because dangerous conditions have made removing bodies from the "death zone" nearly impossible.
The team also plans to remove some 6,600 pounds (3,000 kilograms) of garbage from the zone.
"We will carry empty sacks and fill them with empty oxygen bottles, food wrappings, old tents and ropes from the area," Namgyal said.
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.
Namgyal, who like most Sherpa uses only one name, has climbed the 29,035-foot (8,850-meter) peak — the world's highest — seven times. One of the expedition's members, Long Dorje, has made the trip 14 times. All of the team members have visited the summit at least once.
Sherpas were mostly yak herders and traders living in the Himalayas until Nepal opened its borders to tourists in 1950. Their stamina and knowledge of the mountains makes them expert guides and porters.