Park Service weighs new poop rules for Denali climbers

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Climbers on North America’s tallest mountain may have to start packing out more of their poop after a researcher determined a glacier in which much of it has been dumped over the past decade probably is not decomposing the human waste.

Michael Loso, a glacier geologist, calculates that 36,000 climbers between 1951 and 2012 deposited 152,000 to 215,000 pounds (69 to 97 metric tons) of feces onto Kahiltna Glacier, part of the most popular route to Denali’s summit.

For more than a decade, the National Park Service has required climbers keep waste off the Alaska mountain’s surface. Mountaineers captured their poop in biodegradable bags held by portable toilets and pitched it into 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 disintegrate, and likely will reappear downstream as stains on Kahiltna Glacier’s surface where melting exceeds annual snowfall.

Park Service officials say the dumping of human waste that does not decompose is not a practice they want to continue 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 nearby Talkeetna.

The proposed regulations would allow mountaineers to drop waste in only one crevasse at high elevation. They would have to carry out the rest.

Human waste is a concern on most mountains that attract multitudes of climbers, and the issue of poop littering the routes up Mount Everest in Nepal is well-documented. Some mountains are trying to minimize the human waste problem. In Japan, bio-toilets have been set up along the route to Mount Fuji’s summit, and incinerator toilets are situated at the top. In Tanzania, latrines have been built for climbers making their way to Kilimanjaro’s summit.

The waste can be more than just bothersome. Climbers on Denali, 130 miles (210 kilometers) north of Anchorage, get all their drinking water by melting snow. And snow contaminated by human excrement can spread dangerous bacteria such as E. coli, causing climbers intestinal distress and diarrhea leading to dehydration, a life-threatening condition at high altitude.

Denali is the centerpiece of Denali National Park, a sprawling expanse of forestland, tundra, glaciers and snowy peaks. Each year about 1,100 people try to reach its summit at 20,310 feet (6,190 meters). More than 90 percent use a route that starts from a landing strip for small airplanes on Kahiltna Glacier.

Starting in 2007, the Park Service required that human waste be collected in “Clean Mountain Cans,” a portable toilet invented by a Denali park ranger that looks like an extended coffee can. Under current rules, climbers between the base camp and 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) are allowed to toss filled liners into crevasses. Rangers even marked safe places to do so.

Loso for more than a decade has studied Denali human waste management to determine whether feces broke down, and if not, where it went. He buried human waste, dug it up after a year and found it remained at temperatures just below freezing, without undergoing temperature extremes or ultraviolet light that kills bacteria.

“For most bacteria, that’s a really comfortable place to be,” Loso said.

He forecasts that poop could emerge 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 remote, future visitors are unlikely to see the emerging waste, but Loso’s findings motivated the Park Service to re-examine its rules. The agency also doesn’t want pollution reaching the Kahiltna River, which flows from the glacier.

Under proposed rules, all Denali dung must be deposited in one of two places: the ranger station at Talkeetna or in a crevasse at “Camp Four,” a campsite at 14,200 feet (4,330 meters). Waste dumped there tumbles down a huge ice cliff and is likely to be pulverized and rendered inert, said Erickson, the mountain ranger.

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

“I think that’s a pretty reasonable thing to do to promote cleanliness and to keep water coming out of Kahiltna Glacier reasonably clean,” he said.

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

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

News Videos
Henderson fails to investigate the drug overdose death of one of its officers
Henderson Police Department's internal affairs did not investigate the 2014 drug overdose death of an officer. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Syphilis Awareness Day
Dr. Joe Iser, District Health Officer of the Southern Nevada Health District, discusses the effects and issues with syphilis in the Las Vegas community on April 16, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas diocese IDs 33 ‘credibly accused’ of sexual abuse
The Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas released a list on Friday of 33 “credibly accused” of sexual abuse who at some point served in the Las Vegas Valley. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CCSD Arbor View meeting
The Clark County School Board hears from the public about racial tensions at Arbor View High School on Thursday, April 11, 2019. (Amelia Park-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Parents of autistic student battle Clark County School District
Joshua and Britten Wahrer, parents of a special education student, are battling the Clark County School District for the right to equip their son with a monitoring device. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Metro homeless outreach a shift in strategy
Lt. Joe Sobrio discusses the new homeless outreach team for Metro. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Prayer for Opportunity Scholarships
Las Vegas students and adults hold a prayer meeting about the Opportunity Scholarship program on Thursday, April 4, 2019. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Solar scams on the rise in Nevada
As Nevada’s solar industry has made a resurgence, solar scammers have followed suit.
Clark County schools and the late bus issue
Year after year, late or no-show buses in the Clark County School District draw the ire of parents and students alike. One year the problem even prompted a parent to crack a school bus window in frustration over a late drop-off. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
I-15 southbound congested near Primm Sunday afternoon
Drivers heading toward California on Interstate 15 should expect heavy traffic and a 13-mile backup Sunday afternoon.
Learning lifesaving skills in advance of fire season
Students and firefighters attend a training session at Fire Station 80 in Blue Diamond, Saturday, March 30, 2019. The training session helps volunteer firefighters obtain necessary annual certification to work wild fires.
Car restoration behind prison walls
Inmates share their experiences working for the Southern Desert Correctional Center auto body shop in Indian Springs while learning valuable skills.
Parent remembers Las Vegas boy killed by car
People visit a memorial at the intersection of South Fort Apache Road and West Arby Avenue at at Faiss Park Wednesday, March 27, 2019, where Jonathan Smith, 12, of Las Vegas, died after he was struck while crossing Fort Apache Monday. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Couple left with surprise medical bills after visit to the hospital
Michael Pistiner took his wife, Marta Menendez-Pistiner, to the ER in January after she fainted twice and appeared to be having a seizure. Despite paying $856 monthly for health insurance, the two, self-employed musicians, were stuck with more than $5,700 in hospital and doctor bills after than hour-and-a-half visit. Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Las Vegas police brief the media on fatal crash
Metropolitan Police Department Capt. Nick Farese addresses the media about a car accident at South Fort Apache Road and West Arby Avenue that left one minor dead and one hospitalized on Monday, March 25, 2019. (Mike Shoro/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Arbor View parent talks about racial issues at the school
Lawanna Calhoun, a former Arbor View parent, talks about the state of the school. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jim Foley talks about 30 years of living HIV-positive
Jim Foley, who was diagnosed as HIV positive 30 years ago, talks at his home in Las Vegas on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Traffic Slows to a Crawl on I-15S Near Primm
Traffic slowed to a crawl around 2:30p Sunday, on I-15S near Primm, Nevada.
Homeless residents speak about safety
The homeless residents living at the corner of Owens Ave. and Main St. reflect on how they feel about their safety after two homeless men died, one was hit crossing the street and another was beat to death by another homeless man. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
CCSD Superintendent address alleged racially motivated threats at Arbor View
CCSD Superintendent Dr. Jesus F. Jara gives update on alleged racially motivated threats against Arbor View High School, and says such threats will not be tolerated. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Super Bloom Near Lake Elsinore, California
Crowds packed the hills near Lake Elsinore on Saturday to capture a rare selfie amidst the super bloom of poppies turning the landscape purple. The super bloom was caused by the larger rainfall this year. (Todd Prince/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Fiery accident in Las Vegas
A three-car accident on Spring Mountain Road around 6:30 pm on Monday night
A bipartisan coalition holds simultaneous rallies to promote criminal justice
A bipartisan coalition holds simultaneous rallies to promote criminal justice. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Stardust implosion anniversary
Twelve years ago today, the Stardust Resort and Casino was imploded. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Lawsuits filed against security contractors at Nevada National Security Site
Two lawsuits were filed today against the current and former government security contractors for the Nevada National Security Site, one on behalf of Jennifer Glover who alleges sexual discrimination and assault and the other on behalf of Gus Redding who alleges retaliation after he gave statements supporting Glover’s claims. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New housing option helps Las Vegas moms keep kids while kicking drugs
WestCare Nevada Women and Children’s Campus in Las Vegas has added a new transitional housing wing for women who have completed the inpatient treatment at the behavioral health nonprofit to help them as they go through outpatient treatment, shore up their finances and prepare to secure long-term housing. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Teenager in critical condition after being struck by an SUV in Henderson
Authorities were called about 2:45 p.m. to the scene in the 2100 block of Olympic Avenue, near Green Valley Parkway and Sunset Road. The teenager was taken to University Medical Center in critical condition. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Water Question Part 3: Conservation loves a crisis
Future growth in the Las Vegas Valley will rest almost entirely on the community’s ability to conserve its finite share of the Colorado River.
The Water Question Part 7: How much can we grow?
Many experts agree that Southern Nevada can continue to grow, so long as residents are willing to do what needs to be done to stretch our crucial resource as far as it will go.
The Water Question Part 6: How many people can Southern Nevada’s water sustain?
The number can swing wildly depending on a host of variables, including the community’s rates of growth, conservation efforts and the severity of drought on the Colorado River.
Life Videos
MAGIC fashion convention showcases men's clothing trends
The MAGIC fashion convention has come to Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center to showcase some of the hottest clothing trends for men. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Army medic’s Afghanistan story told in new book
The graphic novel “Machete Squad” is based on journals written by Las Vegan Brent Dulak.
Las Vegas man talks about losing his wife
Dwayne Murray, 37, lost his wife, LaQuinta while she was at Centennial Hills Hospital. A jury awarded him $43 million last week after it said the hospital failed to perform the standard of care in administering a drug for her sickle cell disease.
Barber sets up shop in grandfather’s old shop
Andres Dominguez’s new barber shop is filled with memories of his grandfather, who ran the El Cortez landmark for more than 30 years. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
TOP NEWS
Home Front Page Footer Listing