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Popular Alaska peak weighs new rules for climbers’ poop

FILE – In this April 15, 2002, file photo, members of the US Army high Altitude Rescue Team from Fort Wainwright army base near Fairbanks, Alaska, unloading of deliveries from the team of the CH-47 Chinook helicopters for the National Park Service 7,000-foot Mount McKinley base camp on the Kahiltna Glacier near Talkeetna, Alaska. The National Park Service is considering new rules for the disposal of human waste generated by climbers on North America’s highest mountain, Denali. (AP Photo/Al Grillo, File)

(Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Climbers of North America’s highest mountain is possible to start with the packaging more of their poop after a researcher has defined a glacier, much of it has been dumped in the last ten years, probably not decomposing the human waste.

Michael Loso, a glacier geologist, calculates that the 36,000 climbers between 1951 and 2012 paid 152,000 to 215,000 lbs (69 to 97 tonnes) of the stool on the Kahiltna Glacier, which is part of the most popular route to Denali’s summit.

For more than a decade, the National Park Service requires climbers to keep waste out of the Alaska mountain surface. Mountaineers captured their poop in biodegradable bags held by portable toilets, and encamped in the deep crevasses on the glacier.

However, Loso’s research indicates human waste never reaches the bottom of the glacier, will never be exposed to extreme temperatures and fall apart, and probably will appear downstream as patches on the Kahiltna Glacier from the surface where the melt exceeds annual snowfall.

Park Service officials say that the discharge of human waste that does not decompose is not a practice that they want to stay in a national park and a wilderness area.

“These changes are in direct response to the research,” Chris Erickson, a mountain ranger, said by phone from near Talkeetna.

The proposed scheme would allow climbers to drop waste in just a crevasse at high altitude. They would have to do the rest.

Human waste is a problem on most of the mountains attract the crowds of climbers, and the issue of the poop waste on the routes of Mount Everest in Nepal is well documented. Some mountains are trying to minimize the human waste problem. In Japan, bio-toilets along the route to the Mount Fuji’s top, and the incinerator toilets are located on the top. In Tanzania, latrines are built for climbers on their way to the top of the Kilimanjaro.

The waste can be more than just a nuisance. Climbers on Denali, 130 miles (210 kilometers) north of Anchorage, to get all of their drinking water due to the melting of snow. And snow contaminated by human faeces can spread dangerous bacteria such as E. coli, which climbers intestinal distress and diarrhea can lead to dehydration, a life-threatening condition at a great height.

Denali is the centerpiece of Denali National Park, a vast sprawling forests, tundra, glaciers and snow-capped peaks. Each year about 1,100 people try to reach the top at 20,310 feet (6,190 metres). More than 90 percent use a route that starts at a landing strip for small planes on the Kahiltna Glacier.

As of 2007, the Park Service requires that human waste be collected in a “Clean Mountain Cans,” a portable toilet was invented by a Denali park ranger that looks like a comprehensive coffee. According to the current rules, climbers between the base camp and 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) are allowed to throw the filled liners into crevices. Rangers marked safe places to do this.

Loso for more than a decade has studied Denali human waste management to determine whether the stool broke, and if not, where it went. He is buried human waste, dug up after a year and found it to be kept at temperatures just below the freezing point, without having to undergo extremes in temperature or uv light that kills bacteria.

“For most bacteria, that is a very comfortable place to be,” Loso said.

He predicts that the poop could arise soon on the glacier surface 7 miles (11 kilometers) below the base camp, where the surface melts faster than snow accumulates.

The area is so far, the future visitors are likely to see the emerging waste, but Loso the findings of the motivation of the Park Service to re-examine the rules. The agency also does not want to contamination reaching the Kahiltna River, which flows from the glacier.

Under the proposed rules, all Denali manure must be disposed of in one of two places: the ranger station at Talkeetna, or in a crevasse on the “Camp Four,” a camping at 14,200 feet (4,330 meters). Waste dumped there tumbles down a huge ice cliff, and will probably be crushed and made inert, said Erickson, the mountain ranger.

Tom Kirby, a guide for the American Alpine Institute, says that his company supports any effort to the waste problem under control.

“I think that’s a reasonable thing to do for the promotion of cleanliness and to prevent the water coming from the Kahiltna Glacier are reasonably clean,” he said.

Colby Coombs, owner of Alaska Mountaineering School, accompanies visitors on Denali, said he fully supports the Park Service assessment of the safety of the climbers, who want to move quickly through dangerous terrain without extra weight, while the protection of a wilderness area in a national park.

“Who would like to see a big pile of human waste?”, he asked. “That’s disgusting.”

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