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Mount Everest has a poop problem. Now climbers are required to bag it.

Climbers ascending Mount Everest will be expected to collect their poop in doggy bags and carry their waste back to base camp, according to new regulations from local officials as they attempt to address a long-festering littering problem on the world’s tallest peak.

Local officials with Khumbu Pasanglhamu Rural Municipality, the body that governs most of Everest, worked with the local waste management group Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee to procure thousands of bags for climbers and staff. According to Archana Ghimire, the environment officer with Khumba Pasanglhamu Rural Municipality, authorities have bags for an estimated 400 foreign climbers, 800 support staff and 300 rescue team members. Each person will receive three bags to reuse throughout the climb and dispose of at the end of their journey.

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It takes typically two weeks or more to complete the summit after reaching base camp, where climbers will receive the bags.

Climbers trashing the mountain has been an issue for years. But as adventure tourism continues its boom, the mountain’s snowy slopes and ridges are increasingly piling up with human feces and other waste. According to the Sagarmathah Pollution Control Committee’s 2022 report, that spring climbers generated more than 16,000 kilograms (35,000 pounds) of poop on Mount Everest, Mount Lhotse and Mount Nuptse, three peaks in the Khumbu region.

It’s a stinky side effect of a climbing industry that - beyond destroying the aesthetic beauty of the mountain - poses a risk to the health of the local population near the mountain’s base, and has resulted in increasingly deadly consequences for climbers and guides. Nepal issued a record 463 permits to climb Everest in the spring 2023 season, according to Reuters.

“By imposing strict waste management regulations, the local government hopes to claim and restore the natural beauty of the Mount Everest Region and combat pollution,” Mingma Chhiri Sherpa, the chairperson of the Khumba Pasanglhamu Rural Municipality, said in an email.

When people climb Everest, they spend most of their time at base camp, acclimating to the altitude before beginning the trek up. Base camp has tents with something akin to a “toilet” - essentially a hole in the ground with drums beneath it that are regularly emptied. But once climbers start summiting, it’s a bit of a free-for-all.

Some expedition groups carry their own drums for waste, or climbers dig holes in the snow to relieve themselves. Others, especially as they ascend higher, may just go wherever they can, even if it’s out in the open. Freezing temperatures at altitude preserve decades-old feces covering a historically and spiritually significant wonder for the Nepali communities who facilitate the treks up the mountain.

“In the past, [climbers] have been kind of digging random holes near the camp or maybe putting a few snow blocks around for privacy,” said Daniel Mazur, a trek leader with the expedition group Summit Climb. “You’re basically going to the bathroom in a hole dug in the snow, and that hole would be filled, and none of that human waste was taken out of the hole.”

Now, climbers will be given the bags at base camp and expected to carry the bags back down at the end of the journey.

The regulation is the latest in a slew of efforts by local Nepali officials and oversight organizations to manage the mounting waste issue caused by the overcrowding on the mountain, which has become a popular destination for Western guide companies since it was first officially summited by Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay in 1953.

To reduce physical waste produced by climbers - debris, plastic and other non-biodegradable trash - the Khumbu Pasanglhamu Rural Municipality requires groups to pay a trash deposit before their summit, which is then returned when they complete the trek with at least 8 kilograms (17 pounds) of trash in tow, according to Chhiri. The Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee has launched several campaigns and programs to clean up the mountain since the 1990s, when commercial climbing began to take off.

“The Nepali government has been enforcing laws to stop littering Everest since 2015,” Chhiri said. “We aim to bring major improvements in this World Heritage site by mandating the carrying of poop bags and shielding it from future harm caused by pollution from human waste and non-biodegradable trash.”

It remains to be seen how the bag use will be enforced, and whether climbers will be expected to weigh their excrement upon descent. Mazur, who works with the Mount Everest Biogas Project, said that with more people bringing their feces down from the climb, more sewage will build up in Gorak Shep, an area near the base camp where waste from the tent-toilets is dumped. This would then also increase pollution of the waterways and environment for the local community.

“We’re already just carrying the waste into this pit,” he said. The Mount Everest Biogas Project is attempting to develop a system to break down the waste that’s developed in the area as a result of the mountain’s popularity. Right now, much of the feces sits untreated.

The problem of too much poop is really a problem of too many people. Crowding has made the mountain more dangerous over the past 20 years as the commercial mountaineering industry glommed onto the peak.

The economy of Nepal, one of the world’s poorest countries, depends heavily on mountaineering and tourism. Yet the more people - and particularly, the more novice Western climbers - who attempt to summit the mountain, the more dangerous it becomes. This was illustrated perhaps most clearly in 2019, when a human traffic jam on the mountain resulted in 11 deaths.

By the end of the climbing season last May, 17 people were presumed dead in one of the worst years on record since 2014, when several Sherpas were killed in an avalanche.

The local Nepali government has not indicated it will limit the number of permits for this year.

The cost to climb Everest can span anywhere from the tens of thousands to more than $100,000 - and lower-cost guide companies have begun to enlist a newer cohort of less experienced climbers, which can pose a deadly risk to guides and others attempting to climb the mountain.

Other popular mountaineering locations, such as Denali, the highest point in North America, have implemented similar doggy-bag requirements to limit waste, but the issue of overcrowding is becoming increasingly common.

“The things we learned about how to manage overcrowding on Everest, we can extend the learning in how to manage the overcrowding on other mountains,” Mazur said.

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