Sanitation Problems Plague Mountaineers in Alaska
ANCHORAGE Mountaineers who ascend North America's loftiest peak are often brought down to earth by "virus-laden poo" left behind by previous climbers, a medical report says.
The unsanitary conditions created by piles of human feces on Mount McKinley can cause diarrhea among climbers, which can lead to widespread problems when combined with the physical stress of a mountain expedition, according to the report in the journal Wilderness and Environmental Medicine.
Of 132 climbers interviewed on the 20,320-foot peak in the summer of 2002, more than a quarter reported having trouble with diarrhea, said the report, which was conducted by officials with the Alaska Division of Public Health.
At high altitudes and in cold temperatures, the authors said those troubles can be severe and potentially dangerous, leading to acute mountain sickness, hypothermia and fatigue-related accidents.
"They think they're going out on a pristine climb and there's virus-laden poo all around them," said Dr. Bradford Gessner, a mountaineer and one of the study's authors.
The researchers said other peaks around the world had similar sanitation troubles but they did not have data on the degree of the problem.
The study recommends a campaign to better educate climbers about hygiene and to impose stiffer penalties for breaches. Climbers also should use alcohol-based hand sanitizers or other antiseptic cleansers after defecating, use purification tablets for drinking water and avoid crowded sleeping arrangements.
Such steps also are appropriate in other well-traveled climbing routes, like Washington's Mount Rainier and on Himalayan peaks, they said.
The National Park Service already has started a clean-up campaign, including the distribution of devices called clean mountain cans to store feces for removal from the mountain, said Roger Robinson, lead mountaineering ranger for Denali National Park and Preserve, site of McKinley.
Because of the harsh conditions, piles of feces have accumulated at the mountain's crowded high camp, located at 17,200 feet, Robinson said.
"It's just an ice pack up there. You really can't dig down and bury anything," he said.