Those wishing to ascend to Denali, the largest mountain in the United States, will be forced to collect feces during ascents. Climbers are required to attach a bucket with a volume of seven liters to the backpack, so that the mountain remains “clean and safe for all visitors.”
Denali National Park changed the rules because of a study that showed that excrement, which climbers usually leave in ice, do not actually decompose, but “float” down the mountain for decades.
“The problem of faeces” exists in Denali for many years. Since 1970, about 34 thousand mountaineers climbed the mountain. They left behind 66 tons of human waste on the most popular route West Buttress. According to the local ranger Tucker Chenoweth (Tucker Chenoweth), at some point, visitors began complaining about a dirty camp at an altitude of 5.2 thousand meters. They noted that there was a smell as from an “uncleared cat’s tray”.
Alpinists receive all the drinking water during the ascent by melting the snow. If the snow mingles with feces, it can lead to diarrhea and infect the intestines with infections. When people are at such a high altitude, these health problems can lead to death. In 2002, a third of the 132 surveyed climbers were infected with intestinal infections, such as acute gastroenteritis after 21 days in Denali.
The situation could be corrected by installing public toilets, but according to Chinoveta, this does not make sense. After all, then the rangers will have to fly 80 kilometers on helicopters and constantly emptying the calobs.
The National Park Service in 2007 introduced a rule according to which visitors of Denali should take with themselves a plastic bucket for feces. However, at the same time, there is an exception: climbers can dump waste into deep cracks in the Kahiltna glacier, if they are at an altitude of 4.5 thousand meters. Rangers believe that in this case the feces will break into small pieces or be exposed to such low temperatures that bacteria will not survive.
This leads to the fact that many park visitors throw waste into too narrow cracks and feces remain on the surface. They are picked up by birds, and then get dirty and carry dangerous bacteria into their habitat. Also climbers often put together with waste wet wipes and plastic wrappers, which are not decomposed and also pose a threat.
According to research from 2012, even in this case the E. coli survives in ice. A small number of these bacteria are also found in the river Kahiltna, which flows out of the glacier. It is not used as a source of drinking water, but is used for outdoor activities.
More visitors will not be allowed to dump waste into the cracks of the glacier. Instead, they are required to carry a bucket from beginning to end of the journey and to empty it in a special area at the nearest station. After that, the buckets are disinfected and returned to the park. The Office left an exception for climbers: at an altitude of 4,3 thousand meters in Camping Four it will be possible to drop the feces into a single crack.
The rangers still do not have the opportunity to check whether the visitors follow the rules of the park. However, Chinovet believes that when changes in the rules are approved, climbers will consciously follow each other. According to the ranger, “they know that it’s not normal – to drop the feces down into cracks.”
Packing feces is not unusual for American national parks. For example, in the Grand Canyon, there is a rule that, in the absence of public toilets, visitors should cope with the “big” need for burrows in the depth of 15 centimeters. They should be located 61 meters from water sources, trails and settlements. Yosemite Park requires climbers to pack their waste in special tubes, which are emptied into special toilet pits at the end of the journey.