Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008

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Ecological problems

Ecological issues, particularly the pollution and destruction of natural habitats by man, are topics of crucial importance today. It is a sad fact that these problems are very much in evidence in Kyrgyzstan. The foothills of Lenin Peak, one of the most popular tourist destinations, are on the verge of ecological disaster.

One of the main problems is the extensive exploration of the high-altitude regions by climbers. The ecological threat that this poses is most apparent in the areas that are used for high-altitude camps, the worst example being the base camp at 4200-4400m (ABC) set up by climbers on the slopes of the Lenin Peak.
The process of exploration and thereby pollution of this area started more than thirty years ago when an international camp known as “Pamir” was established here. The climbers used this unique place as a rest stop during their ascents of the Lenin Peak. The evidence of their stay here can still be seen in the form of rusty cans “decorating” the area.
The international camp “Pamir” shut down after the collapse of the Soviet Union. However private tourist companies immediately replaced it with their own camps as they started to explore the region. The camp at ABC was widely advertised by the companies eager to offer a range of services, as the closest place to the summit, as a place that could be reached without using up too much energy (it is possible to ride there), as somewhere where climbers could eat and take a shower and live in relative comfort for several days before the ascent. Every tourist company (about five or six in all) made it a point of pride to have its own camp at ABC.
As a result, in the last three or four years this area has become an enormous rubbish dump where hundreds of climbers live, eat, sleep, wash. Plastic rubbish has replaced metallic cans. Nearby on the glacier tragic traces of past accidents and even fragments of lost climbers' bodies can be seen. A fast-flowing stream washes the garbage off into the valley. Each year the amount of garbage increases and the impact of this increase is enormous.

So what can be done?
1. Stop this travesty urgently!
2. Clean the garbage off the camp in ABC. Grants and a special ‘ecological fee' for visiting the region could finance this measure.
3. Prohibit the pitching of stationary camps in ABC (kitchens, showers, fixed tents).

The analysis of the ascents made by the tourist company “Dostuck-Trekking” showed the following: about 90% of climbers who chose to tackle the ascent after staying at ABC camp did not reach the top. There is a false assumption among some foreign mountain climbers that the more time they spend in the ABC camp, the better acclimatized they will be and the more energy they will build up for the ascent. I believe that high-altitude acclimatization can be achieved only at the elevation of about 6000m and altitudes of more than 4000m do not make for good living conditions.
The activity of Chinese “businessmen” in the foothills of Lenin Peak is incomparably worse. The huge areas ruthlessly laid waste by tractors are astonishing. If everything continues in the same way, there will be a large mountain desert instead of alpine meadows in the near future. It is not clear why state and law authorities do not pay more attention to this serious matter. The tourist companies pay significant sums of money to the local authorities for each meter of rented land that they use for two to three months a year. The ecology officials come regularly and check the condition of the land they rent, but do not take preventive action and by doing nothing, passively support the damage caused by the Chinese.

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