Want to save Mt Everest, the universal symbol of grandeur, toughness and adventure? Then eat an apple pie.
A mountaineer and entrepreneur has hit upon the novel scheme of selling apple pies to save the world's tallest peak from becoming the highest garbage dump littered with cans, bottles, tents and other refuse left behind by careless climbers.
Dawa Steven Sherpa, who first climbed the 8,848-metre peak in 2007, runs the world's highest bakery - the Base Camp Bakery - from a green tent at the base camp of Mt Everest at a height of 5,330 m. A trained baker dishes out cheese croissant, zucchini bread, chocolate chip cookies, the day's special and other delights. An apple pie at the Base Camp Bakery costs Nepali Rs 350 (about $4.60).
In Kathmandu, it will cost you a third of the price. But every NRs 100 a patron pays at the world's highest bakery goes to remove 100 kg of garbage from Mt Everest.
It's tied to the "Cash for Trash" project started by Dawa last year with his Eco Everest Expedition in memory of Everest hero Edmund Hillary to bring down the trash accumulating on the mountain year after year.
"When I climbed Mt Everest for the first time in 2007, I saw a lot of garbage and human waste on Mt Everest," says Dawa. "It was really getting filthy.
"Mountaineering is my business, so I have to take care of my assets. But more than that, I love the mountains. I have been climbing them since I was a child. Loving them is not just taking photographs."
Last year, Dawa's Eco Everest Expedition 2008 brought down under a tonne of garbage. This year it was almost six tonnes, 4,646.5 kg of garbage and over a tonne of helicopter debris.
He told a fellow mountaineer, Minnesotan Nicholas Cunningham, that he was going to pay NRs 100 to anyone who brought in 100 kg of old garbage. Intrigued, the American decided to go out himself and scavenge.
The strange sight of the 'crazy' foreigner digging in the dirt caught the attention of the Sherpas accompanying different expeditions and that's how word about the "Cash for Trash" project spread.
All of a sudden, Dawa had "sacks and sacks of garbage coming into our camp".
There were old ladders, tent poles, rusted tin cans, cardboard, paper, old tents, batteries and helicopter parts.
Then there was `treasure', like a tin can that said `1964', wooden beams with crampon marks that were used before the advent of ladders and some could quite possibly have been used in the 1953 Tenzing-Hillary Expedition in the icefall and ancient film reels.
This year's garbage collection cost him NRs 900,000, a small fortune in Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world. Dawa thanks his father Ang Tsering Sherpa's Asian Trekking Company and climbing gear manufacturer The NorthFace for funding him.
The modest money the Base Camp Bakery made was donated to the project. Besides, Dawa also used the bakery as a high-visibility platform to distribute information and fliers to educate people about the impact of climate change on the Himalayas.
While whatever could be burnt was handed over to the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee, the rest has been brought down to Khumjung village and stored in a lodge owned by Dawa's family. Now he plans to bring art students from Nepal and abroad so that they can recycle the refuse into sculptures.
These would eventually be displayed in the Himalayan villages as a warning message that the mountains are not immune to mankind. They can be affected by man for good or bad and need to be protected.
Dawa says he will lead a cleaning expedition in 2010 as well and beyond that.
"I am going to go on doing this till there is more garbage left on Mt Everest," he promises.