Been there, done that, left trash

March 18, 2000

In 1953 Sir Edmund Hillary became the first person to ascend to the peak of Mount Everest. When asked why he climbed it, so it’s said, he replied, "Because it’s there." Since then, many climbers have followed in his path, and all have left proof of their courage, their austerity, and their slovenliness. Yes, just about everybody who’s climbed Mount Everest in the past fifty years or so has left behind garbage. Everything from oxygen cannisters to foil tents to carbo-bar wrappers now dots the once pristine slopes of the world’s highest peak. In fact, the problem has gotten so bad that since 1992 several expeditions have set out with the purpose of bringing down some of that garbage. To which I ask, Why? It’s there. Why not leave it there?

Don’t we have enough garbage down here without bringing more off of some stupid mountain? I say more expeditions need to be made to take more garbage up there, but Mount Everest, or just about any mountain for that matter, is a lousy place for garbage. Mountains, to paraphrase Graham Chapman, climb steeply upward for a long way, then suddenly slope downward. These are not good places for garbage. The chances that anything left up there will be blown off and land on somebody are just too great. If you’ve ever seen anyone get hit by a falling oxygen cannister, you know what I mean. Nature, fortunately, has provided us with several wonderful potential dumping grounds. Here are a few:

  • The Grand Canyon: If you haven’t seen it by now, go buy a postcard. The Grand Canyon has been empty space for millions of years now. It’s about time we turn it into the world’s biggest landfill.
  • The Marianas Trench: Only two people have been to the bottom of this deepest point in the ocean. Two scientists made the descent of 35,800 feet (that’s deeper than Mt. Everest is tall) in 1960 and saw an 18-inch sea cucumber. Some have pointed to the presence of a giant echinoderm as evidence of a strange, fragile ecosystem far at the bottom of the ocean. I say it’s proof that the ocean is already using this chasm as a dumping ground, and it’s about time we landlubbers follow suit.
  • Antarctica: Since there’s already a hole in the ozone layer down there, a few million cubic tons of solid waste wouldn’t hurt. Sorting out the recyclable stuff would give the penguins something to do while they’re avoiding ultraviolet radiation.
  • The Moon: It’s cold, it’s dark, and there’s nothing to do. It’s just like North Dakota. The best part about the Moon is it’s a great jumping-off point for outer space itself, which is so incredibly big it’ll take us years to fill it up with garbage. We can start with columns like this one.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

Here are some of the "All Time Dumbest Questions Asked by Banff Park Tourists," as heard at the information kiosks manned by Parks Canada staff.

How do the elk know they’re supposed to cross at the "Elk Crossing" signs?

At what elevation does an elk become a moose?

Tourist: "How do you pronounce ‘Elk’?" Park Information Staff: " ‘Elk’ " Tourist: "Oh"

Are the bears with collars tame?

Is there anywhere I can see the bears pose?

Is it okay to keep an open bag of bacon on the picnic table, or should I store it in my tent?

Where can I find Alpine Flamingos?

I saw an animal on the way to Banff today – could you tell me what it was?

Are there birds in Canada?

Did I miss the turnoff for Canada?

Where does Alberta end and Canada begin?

Do you have a map of the State of Jasper?

Is this the part of Canada that speaks French, or is that Saskatchewan?

If I go to B.C., do I have to go through Ontario?

Which is the way to the Columbia Ricefields?

How far is Banff from Canada?

What’s the best way to see Canada in a day?

Do they search you at the B.C. border?

When we enter B.C. do we have to convert our money to British pounds?

Where can I buy a racoon hat? ALL Canadians own one don’t they?

Are there phones in Banff?

So it’s eight kilometres away… is that in miles? We’re on the decibel system you know.

Where can I get my husband really, REALLY, lost??

Is that 2 kilometres by foot or by car?

Don’t you Canadians know anything?

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