News Feature | March 24, 2015

Tick Tock: Mount Everest Is A Fecal Time Bomb

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

The peak of Mount Everest used to be one of the most isolated and untouched spots on earth. But now that 4,000 climbers have ascended its heights, pollution has caught up with the pristine location.

"People have left oxygen canisters, broken climbing equipment, trash, human waste and even dead bodies in their wake, transforming the peak into a literal pile of … well, you get the idea," the Washington Post reported.

As mountaineer Mark Jenkins put it in a National Geographic article about Everest: “The two standard routes, the Northeast Ridge and the Southeast Ridge, are not only dangerously crowded but also disgustingly polluted, with garbage leaking out of the glaciers and pyramids of human excrement befouling the high camps."

Ang Tshering, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, spoke out about the problem in March.

"Tshering wants Nepal's government to ask climbers to get rid of their waste properly. More than 700 climbers and guides spend almost two months on the mountain slopes every year. He says that some climbers do carry disposable travel toilet bags to use in the higher camps. At base camp there are toilet tents, which have special drums to contain human waste. These can be taken away from the mountain and emptied safely," the BBC reported.

Tshering explained how the problem arose. “Climbers usually dig holes in the snow for their toilet use and leave the human waste there,” he said, per the Associated Press.

Dawa Steven Sherpa, who is working to lead cleanup expeditions, echoed the concerns. “It is a health hazard and the issue needs to be addressed,” he said, per the report.

Tshering's organization has tips for climbers on how to address the issue. Policy changes might be necessary to support the cleanup, as well. "Nepal requires climbers to bring down everything they take up or lose a $4,000 deposit, but there is no such penalty for improperly disposing of organic material," the Atlantic reported.