Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Mount ever-waste?

Toilet tent at Everest Base Camp, Nepal Toilet tent at Everest Base Camp, Nepal Maciej Bledowski
10 Mar
2015
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...

TORI JAMES
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.

GEORGIOS-IOANNIS TSIANOS
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.

BONITA NORRIS
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.

Related items

Subscribe and Save!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

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...

Places

In the second of his features on the world’s geopolitical…

Water

The discovery a long ‘tongue’ of ice beneath a glacial…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig explains two cartograms which demonstrate the global water…

Places

Get on your bike with this collection of stories to…

Water

The Brown Bank a haven for marine life in the…

Forests

The first payment under the Redd+ scheme to conserve tropical…

Places

In the first of a series on geopolitical curiosities and…

Cities

A socioecological model is predicting the areas of major US…

Mapping

Following the collapse of the upstream tailings dam in Brumadinho,…

Mapping

The domestication of animals for food, secondary products, labour and…

Cities

Strap in for a newer, greener experience in virtual city…

Water

A major investment in data collection along the Nile could…

Forests

Several factors are contributing to extreme deforestation in Haiti, with…

Cities

Illegal wells are depleting groundwater basins beneath Tehran causing it…

Mapping

Mapping the trade war between the US and China and…

Mapping

Check out this superb selection of mapping books - ideal…

Water

Glacial melt is increasing  land instability in mountainous regions, with huge tsunamis…

Mapping

A large-scale terrain mapping project makes Antarctica the best-mapped continent…

Water

New research reveals that microplastics can survive in mosquitos from…