Climbers climbing Mount Everest will now have to collect their own feces and take them back to base camp for disposal, according to Nepalese authorities.
“Our mountains have started to stink,” says Mingma Sherpa, president of the Pasang Lhamu rural municipality, which is responsible for the region and which implemented the new rule as part of broader measures.
“We are receiving complaints that human feces are visible on rocks and some climbers are falling ill. This is not acceptable and damages our image,” he added to the BBC.
Climbers attempting to ascend Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain, and nearby Mount Lhotse will be instructed to purchase and carry “stool bags” at base camp, which will be “checked upon return.”
Where to relieve yourself on a mountain?
During the climbing season, climbers spend most of their time at base camp getting used to the altitude. In this, there are separate tents with toilets, with barrels underneath to collect waste.
But once they begin their perilous journey, things get more difficult.
Most climbers and support teams usually dig a hole to relieve themselves, but as you go up the mountain, some areas have less snow, so you have to relieve yourself outdoors.
Due to the extreme temperatures — the lowest ever recorded on Mount Everest was -42°C — the feces left along the way do not degrade completely.
Very few people bring their feces back in biodegradable bags when climbing to the summit of Mount Everest, which can take up to four weeks.
Trash remains a major problem on Everest and other mountains in the region, despite an increase in cleaning campaigns — such as the one carried out annually by the Nepalese Army.
“The waste problem remains an important issue, especially in the higher camps where it is not easy to reach,” says Chhiring Sherpa, CEO of the non-governmental organization Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC).
Although there is no official figure, his organization estimates that there are around three tons of human feces between camp one, at the base of Everest, and camp four, the last one before the summit.
“Half of this is in the vicinity of South Col, also known as camp four,” says Chhiring Sherpa.
Stephan Keck, a mountain guide who organizes expeditions to Everest, said the South Col has gained a reputation as an “open-air toilet”.
At 7,906 meters above sea level, South Col serves as a base before climbers attempt the summits of Everest and Lhotse. At this point, the terrain is heavily windswept.
“There’s almost no ice and snow, so you’ll see human feces everywhere,” says Keck.
Authorized by the rural municipality of Pasang Lhamu, the SPCC is now purchasing around 8,000 bags of feces from the United States for approximately 400 foreign climbers and 800 support staff members in the upcoming climbing season, which begins in March.
Fecal bags contain chemicals and powders that solidify human feces, making them largely odorless.
On average, a climber is believed to produce 250 grams of feces per day. They usually spend about two weeks in the highest camps in their attempt to reach the summit.
“We plan to provide them with two bags, each of which can be used five to six times,” explains Chhiring Sherpa.
“It is certainly a positive thing, and we will be happy to play our role in making this successful,” says Dambar Parajuli, president of the Nepal Expedition Operators Association.
The organization suggested that this should initially be implemented as a pilot project on Everest and then replicated on other mountains as well.
Mingma Sherpa, the first Nepali to have climbed all 14 mountains over 8,000 meters, said the use of these bags to manage human waste has been tested and proven in other mountains.
“Mountaineers have used these bags on Mount Denali (the highest mountain in North America) and in Antarctica too, which is why we have been advocating for it,” says Sherpa, who is also an advisor to the Nepal Mountaineering Association.
The Nepal government has introduced several rules for mountain climbing in the past, but critics say many of them have not been properly implemented.
One of the main reasons is the absence of officers to monitor expeditions on site. Many of those who were scheduled to accompany teams to the base camps simply did not show up.
“The state has always been absent from the base camps, leading to all sorts of irregularities, including people climbing our mountains without permission,” says Sherpa, the chairman of Pasang Lhamu rural municipality.
“That will all change now. We will establish a liaison office and ensure that our new measures, including making climbers bring back their feces, are implemented.”