Mount Ever-waste?

Toilet tent at Everest Base Camp, Nepal Toilet tent at Everest Base Camp, Nepal Maciej Bledowski
10 Mar
Reports out of Nepal claim that human waste created by mountain climbers is creating a health hazard on Mount Everest. We asked three climbers who have been to the summit to give their thoughts on the situation

Nepal Mountaineering Association President Ang Tshering told reporters last week that climbers not removing their human waste has become a major issue on the mountainside. ‘Climbers usually dig holes in the snow for their toilet use and leave the human waste there,’ he said, adding that the waste has been ‘piling up’ for years around the four camps between Everest Base Camp and the summit. One recommendation is that all climbers must carry special disposable toilet bags, which can be removed from the mountain when they climb down.

But what do the people who have actually been there think? We spoke with three Everest conquerors and asked them to recount their own experiences with lavatorial facilities on the mountain...

Climbed in 2007. The first Welsh woman to reach the summit

Base Camp appeared to be very well managed, with all human waste being carried back down the Khumbu Valley for disposal. Most climbers were very good about maintaining basic hygiene standards, such as washing hands after using the toilet. However, I think that the lack of protocol and regulation regarding toilet facilities above basecamp is a concern. When I was there I certainly did consider the impact of increasing numbers of climbers all using the same crevasses as latrines. If the Khumbu glacier and ice and snow cover continues to retreat, then I imagine there may come a time when the contents of crevasses used as latrines becomes exposed. I certainly would not want to climb on a mountain with visible evidence of frozen excrement.

In terms of it becoming a health hazard, I had concerns for this back when I was there, but only at Camp 4. I recall reminding my team member to be careful as to where he collected snow from at Camp 4. There was no ‘dedicated’ toilet facility, and so the chance of someone scooping up unwanted material along with snow collected for water is a real risk.

There are other mountains around the world, such as Denali, USA, where solid human waste has to be carried out. I have not visited any of these places, so I can’t comment on the practicalities and implications of doing so, but I would be happy to do this if it meant preserving the beauty and sustainability of a popular area for all.

Climbed in 2004. The first Greek climber to reach the summit via the northern route through Tibet

I was fortunate to have gone via the north side which means a lot less climbers and a lot less tourists ‘doing’ Everest Base Camp. The toilet issue is indeed a problem, not just on Everest, but throughout the Himalayas.

During my expedition we had man-made toilets, so to speak, at Base Camp and advanced Base Camp, I am sure the same is true for the south side as well. Basically, we dug a hole in the ground, or on ice, and placed one of those big blue container buckets that you see the Sherpas, or even the yaks, carrying. As far as I remember, on the north side, upon leaving the mountain, those buckets filled with human waste had to be accounted for by the local authorities.

Above Base Camp however, it was simply an open-space toilet. I can imagine that over time, with more and more people attempting to summit the mountain, it would make sense to try and come up with a solution as it could become a very dirty place. The higher the camp, the less space to ‘do things’, and the more dirty an area could become and over time. With more crowds nowadays it could of course become a health hazard.

Disposable bags could be an answer, but I don’t know how many climbers would be conscious about picking them up on the way down. Although they should, and in theory I am sure they would advocate that they would, when its time to do it, will they? Maybe there could be a designated ‘clean up’ team and, of course, be paid a fixed amount by each individual upon entering base camp. If we are happy to see our streets cleaners clean our towns and roads, I can't see anyone objecting to paying ‘mountain cleaners’ to do the same.

Climbed in 2010. Youngest person to reach both the summit of Everest and the North Pole

I would wholeheartedly support a waste-carrying rule. It happens on other mountains, so why not Everest? The unfortunate fact though is that it will be the Sherpa-guides who end up carrying the waste. I wouldn’t want any Sherpa-guide I know doing that for anyone.

No, I did not walk up a pile of excrement. I have never been ill on Everest, and I’ve been there twice totalling about three months. The facilities are crevasses up on the mountain, barrels down below at Base Camp. I don’t think we need any facilities, we just need to be responsible for our own waste.

It’s a non-story whipped up by the media who have never been to the mountain. Yes, conditions are less than sterile, but that is a given considering the overcrowding. There are far more important issues on Everest than human waste matter; it’s the Sherpa’s life insurance we should be talking about, and the fact that there are far too many people. Poo is a distraction by the government, they should be dealing with the real issues.

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Related items

Leave a comment

ONLY registered members can leave comments and each comment is held pending authorisation before publishing. Please login or register to voice your opinion.


Get the best stories from Geographical delivered straight to your inbox each week.

Subscribe Today


Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester




Travel the Unknown


Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...
    The true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...
    Long live the King
    It is barely half a century since the Born Free story caused the world to re-evaluate humanity’s relationship with lions. A few brief decades later,...
    London: a walk in the park
    In the 2016 London Mayoral election, the city’s natural environment was high on the agenda. Geographical asks: does the capital has a green future, ...
    The Money Trail
    Remittance payments are a fundamental, yet often overlooked, part of the global economy. But the impact on nations receiving the money isn’t just a ...


NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PLACES...


The new ‘world’s longest flight’ now spans a distance of more…


For the Swiss, the iconic yellow postbuses are much more…


After years of inaction, could the clean-up of the Venice lagoon…


Following the recent success of New Zealand’s Whanganui river, India’s…


The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation)…


Where are Europe's earthquakes located? Benjamin Hennig maps the answer


Was last year’s El Niño a practice run for future…


Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…


Drought in the region is turning to full famine –…


After decades of neglect, a major clean-up of Lake Titicaca…


What was once one of Botswana’s most iconic pieces of…


The world’s largest tropical peatland carbon store has been mapped…


Benjamin Hennig visualises how the world has moved to the…


They have been in place for nearly a decade, but…


As Paris continues to combat its severe air pollution problem,…


Which are the world's happiest countries? Benjamin Hennig maps the…


New Zealand, Australia, and other former British colonies among the…


Thirty years ago, the world bore witness to one of…


From the clothes you are wearing, to the shoes on…


As Geographical takes a look at the geopolitical state of…