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The other night I had the great pleasure of meeting Dr. Joyce Azzam, conservationist, motivational speaker, first Lebanese woman to conquer the 7 summits after reaching the peak of Everest last year. She was speaking in conjunction with Himalayan Life CEO Daniel Burgi about Mountain Plastic pollution and what they plan on doing about it.  She opened with a story.

What the heck is a bottle of Sprite doing there?

“On the way back down from the summit of Everest,” she said, “I was holding on to one of these ropes and on my right side I saw one shiny green bottle of Sprite, dancing in the melting ice. It was really interesting to look at that bottle just turning around, struggling, not moving up or down but just stuck in the pure melting water of the icefall.” She thought to herself, “What the heck is a bottle of Sprite doing there?”

This picture stayed with Joyce as she recalled that just two nights before while sleeping in her tent in the “death zone” at 7900 metres high, she literally slept on top of a pile of trash.

“I really remember this feeling of anger inside of me,” she said.  “At 8000 meters it should be one of the most pristine and cleanest places on earth but it’s filled with trash!” 

Photo courtesy of Joyce Azzam

Joyce decided to stay at Base Camp one more night to recover and think about her role in contributing to the problem, and what she was going to do about it.  She was motivated by a new passion now. Having achieved her goal of climbing to the top of the world, she was now consumed with thoughts of her next goal. Cleaning up Everest.  

After only one week away from Nepal, she returned to Kathmandu to speak in front of a group of 400 people about her experiences climbing Mt. Everest and how she felt after accomplishing such a feat.  After the presentation, one Sherpa woman named Lakpahuti approached her and said, “Joyce, all the mountaineers come to climb Mt.Everest to get the claim to fame, and they leave! But only you, you’ve come back.”

I trashed Everest, I am part of this problem, so what am I going to do about it?

From that chance encounter, Joyce and Lakpahuti, have joined together and created Everest Voices, an initiative that aims to find ways of cleaning up the trash and plastic surrounding the breathtaking mountain.  

“Trash is not acceptable to stay at Camp 4.” Said Joyce. “When I started this project I had to say, I trashed Everest, I am part of this problem, so what am I going to do about it?

Not only is Joyce planning an expedition this year with Himalayan Life and several street boys to begin cleaning up Everest Base Camp but she has in the works a plan to climb to Camp 4 in 2021 to remove the trash from 8000m up. 

I was spellbound by her motivational talk and the determination she has in crushing this next goal of hers and I’ll be following along and seeing what ways I can contribute and help.  Everest Base Camp has been on my bucket list for years so maybe instead of going as a tourist, I go as someone with a purpose. To help clean up the environment and collectively make a difference. It starts with one step.

-Misti Hurst (Himalayan Life Friend and Advocate)

Follow along with on the Everest Base Camp Expedition for Himalayan Life

Follow along with Joyce on Instagram

Cover Photo courtesy of Fred Meyerink