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New Rules Coming for Climbers' Poop on Denali

Study finds fecal matter dumped over the past decade isn't decomposing as it needs to
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 1, 2018 5:00 AM CST

(Newser) – 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 isn't decomposing the human waste, the AP reports. Michael Loso, a glacier geologist, calculates that 36,000 climbers between 1951 and 2012 deposited 152,000 to 215,000 pounds of feces onto Kahiltna Glacier, part of the most popular route to Denali's summit. 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.

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Park Service officials say the dumping of human waste that doesn't decompose isn't a practice they want to continue in a national park and 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 can be more than just bothersome. Climbers on Denali, the centerpiece of sprawling Denali National Park, 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 altitudes.

(Read more Denali stories.)

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