Published: April 2012
The Moment  Tommy Heinrich
Cleaning Up K2 What goes up doesn’t always come down, such as remnants of human expeditions to Earth’s most forbidding peaks. So when an avalanche forced photographer Tommy Heinrich to abandon a K2 summit attempt, he wasted no time organizing an effort to get garbage off the Karakoram Range giant. He and other team members had noticed alarming amounts of trash: old fuel containers, car batteries, stoves, tin cans, glass bottles, and more. With the help of donkeys, camels, and a hired crew, the project relieved K2 of nearly 1,800 pounds of litter. —Luna Shyr

Behind the Lens

What was happening here?

We were at 16,400 feet, returning from the base of K2 (at right) through a moraine of rock and ice. Two camel herders, Kudus (at left) and Umer, were carrying empty gas canisters and other garbage—90 pounds and 70 pounds each. The donkey had over 250 pounds, including tent poles, rusted chairs, and poorly burned plastic. After 14 hours of walking, the herders left some canisters near camp, which we later collected. The loads were too heavy, and everyone was very tired.

What inspired you to lead the garbage removal project?

I love nature. Seeing it pristine, pure, and clean is crucial to me. On this occasion I was terribly frustrated seeing how dirty our mountains were. I’ve been part of many expeditions and every time have removed garbage from the mountains. I think it’s hard to justify that we could leave so much trash behind. Mostly with climbers it’s because we are tired, running out of time, stuck in storms, have to carry a lot of weight, or because it's expensive to remove garbage and take it back to the cities from which we start our trips. On the day I took this image, we collected 860 pounds of trash from one place on the glacier.