Conquering Everest, the world’s highest peak, may just have got a little harder, although breathing the thin mountain air might become a bit easier from now on, as regional authorities have announced new rules to make climbers carry their excrement back down the mountain.
“Our mountains have begun to stink,” said Mingma Sherpa, chairman of Pasang Lhamu rural municipality, speaking to the BBC. If the perilous weather conditions, terrifying heights, and sheer physical challenge among crowds of other climbers battling to reach the top are not enough to put you off attempting the feat, his description might just do the trick: “We are getting complaints that human stools are visible on rocks,” he said, “and some climbers are falling sick. This is not acceptable and erodes our image.”
The most common Tibetan name for Everest, “Chomolungma”, means “Goddess Mother of the World” or “Goddess of the Valley”, while the Sanskrit name “Sagarmatha” signifies “Peak of Heaven”. But with around 1,200 seasonal visitors and support staff each churning out roughly 250g of poo every day of their two-week climb and hardly any of them bringing their waste down, the Goddess’s face is smeared with an estimated four tonnes of poo by the end of each climbing cycle. Not very heavenly.
The bulk of the problem is at Camp Four, or South Col, according to Stephan Keck, an Everest expedition organiser reported by the BBC as saying the 7,906-metre-high camp (25,938 feet) is an “open toilet”.
Other types of waste, such as rubbish and equipment, are collected in clean-up campaigns, such as those by the Nepali military. But items discarded at higher camps are often too difficult to retrieve, and excrement is usually left behind.
Up to the job?
Doesn’t poop just break down in nature, you might ask? The answer, unfortunately, is no. Human waste decomposes slowly at high altitudes. As well as being unsightly and foul-smelling, it pollutes water sources and damages the delicate mountain ecosystem. Hence new plans to provide climbers with waste bags ahead of their climb.
The non-governmental Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC) is placing an order for around 8,000 US-manufactured bags containing substances to set human excrement and make it less smelly. Authorities, who have been accused of running a lax regime on the mountain, have promised to increase their presence and a new part of their role will be to check the poo bags as adventurers return.