Why is there so much poop on Mt. Everest?
As far as exploring goes, Mt. Everest isn’t a treasure trove of earthly discoveries. Alluring and majestic as it certainly is, there’s little in the way of new species to discover (since hardly anything can live at that altitude), nor is it overflowing with artifacts to connect us to our human history. Well, unless you call the heaping piles of human shit “artifacts.”
That’s right, climbers who risk (and often lose) their lives to tackle the world’s tallest peak, are leaving trails of human waste all over this sacred mountain.
“The head of Nepal’s mountaineering association has warned that human waste left when climbers use holes in the snow as lavatories is contaminating the world’s highest peak,” reports the Independent. Approximately 700 climbers spend almost two months every year on Everest’s slopes acclimating and climbing, and leaving “large amounts” of feces and urine “buried in the snow.”
While some climbers do carry disposable travel toilet bags (and proper waste management is conducted at the lowest base camp), many climbers don’t. They simply dig holes in the snow and go.
“It is a health hazard and the issue needs to be addressed,” Dawa Steven Sherpa, who has been leading Everest clean-up expeditions since 2008, said to the Independent.
But there is no concrete plan in place for how to manage the mountain waste, probably because there can’t really be one—aside from keeping people off the mountain and admiring its beauty rather than trying to conquer it. The official Nepalese response has been it will “strictly monitor” the situation, and it does have a rule in place requiring climbers to bring back 18 pounds of trash to base camp after a climb. But that’s a mere dent in the damage being caused by all the poop, particularly since most climbers take a very similar route to the top, which means the human waste is being cluttered in small areas of the mountain.
When Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first climbed Everest in 1953, it was a watershed moment for the human spirit, nearly as exciting as the moon landing that would happen more than a decade later. Humans had triumphed over nature, defeated the odds and lived to tell about it. But since then, some 4,000 people have attempted to climb Mt. Everest, many of them dying tragically for what can only be described as a selfish drive to conquer the most alluring mountain in the world.
While the expeditions are a boon to the Nepalese economy, the piles of poop could actually be quite damaging, particularly as climate change is also having an impact on the region. Warming temperatures could mean more avalanches, which actually shut down last year’s expeditions. And if we keep sending people up the mountain to poop, those avalanches could also be biohazards for the region—a tragedy Hilary and Norgay would certainly not want to be their legacy.
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Everest sign image via Shutterstock