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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.

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