ANCHORAGE — Climbers on North America’s tallest mountain may have to start packing out more of their feces after a researcher determined a glacier in which much of it has been dumped over the past decade probably is not decomposing the human waste.
Michael Loso, a glacier geologist, calculates that 36,000 climbers between 1951 and 2012 deposited 152,000 to 215,000 pounds of feces onto Kahiltna Glacier, part of the most popular route to Denali’s summit.
For more than a decade, the National Park Service has required that climbers keep waste off the Alaska mountain’s surface. Mountaineers captured their waste in biodegradable bags held by portable toilets and pitched it into deep crevasses on the glacier.
However, Loso’s research indicates human waste never reaches the bottom of the glacier, will never be exposed to extreme temperatures and disintegrate, and likely will reappear downstream on Kahiltna Glacier’s surface where melting exceeds annual snowfall.
Park Service officials say the dumping of human waste that does not decompose is not a practice they want to continue in a national park and a wilderness area.
The proposed regulations would allow mountaineers to drop waste in only one crevasse at high elevation. They would have to carry out the rest.
Human waste is a concern on most mountains that attract multitudes of climbers, and the issue of waste littering the routes up Mount Everest in Nepal is well-documented. Some mountains are trying to minimize the human waste problem.
In Japan, biotoilets have been set up along the route to Mount Fuji’s summit, and incinerator toilets are at the top. In Tanzania, latrines have been built for climbers making their way to Kilimanjaro’s summit.
The waste can be more than just bothersome. Climbers on Denali, the centerpiece of sprawling Denali National Park, get all their drinking water by melting snow.
And snow contaminated by human excrement can spread dangerous bacteria such as E. coli, causing climbers intestinal distress and diarrhea leading to dehydration, a life-threatening condition at high altitude.