Butterflies of Everest: The Role of Poo Bags on the worlds highest mountain

Blake P
Butterflies of Everest: The Role of Poo Bags on the worlds highest mountain

A long time ago, while this author was slowly moving up the massive peak of Aconcagua, he noticed many little white objects swirling and dancing all around him in the freezing winds. Our guide informed us that these were the 'Aconcagua Butterflies' a common site. Sadly they were not butterflies at all, but fragments of toilet paper left behind from all the trekkers' waste hidden under rocks on the mountain. We were one of the few teams to carry our own 'WAG Bags' and happily did not contribute to the problem. That was 2013, a turning point for Aconcagua. Soon after changes were made and rules were enforced. And now the same is happening on other popular peaks around the globe.

Waste on Mount Everest

Climbing to the pinnacle of the world, the summit of Mount Everest, is an incredible adventure sought by many. But few adventurers consider the environmental impact of the most basic of human needs: waste disposal. The issue of poop on Everest has become a serious concern for officials and conservationists alike, prompting the need for effective waste management solutions. In this blog, we're going to explore this issue and discuss the role of a seemingly unlikely hero – the poo bag, also known as the WAG Bag (which stands for 'Waste Alleviating Gel', something used inside this bag to break down the contents.).

WAG Bag Poop Bag
WAG Bag ready for use


The Unspoken Problem: Human Waste on Everest

As climbers make their ascent up the treacherous terrain of Everest, consuming nutrient-rich foods becomes a crucial aspect of survival. However, a consequence of these frequent, high-calorie meals is an increased output of human waste. The unsavory topic of poop on Everest, often overlooked in discussions of mountaineering, has transformed from an uncomfortable nuisance to an environmental crisis.

For decades, the towering peaks of the Himalayas have borne the brunt of a less glamorous side of human exploration. The accumulated refuse from countless expeditions has led officials to declare the mountain 'stinking,' reflecting the distressing state of affairs. It's estimated that the natural wonder is annually burdened with approximately 28,000 pounds of waste, a figure derived solely from human feces.

The accumulation of such a significant amount of waste is not just an aesthetic problem or a smelly inconvenience; it poses serious threats to both the environment and mountaineers. The decomposition of organic matter at such high altitudes is a slow process, further exacerbating the issue.

In addition, the rapid melting of glaciers, an unfortunate reality of our warming planet, threatens to expose even more of this waste. As the temperature continues to rise, old campsites, previously locked in ice, are revealed - along with the mounds of waste left behind by climbers.

The risk extends beyond environmental implications, with human waste presenting potential health hazards. Bacterial and viral pathogens can persist in the fecal matter, exposing climbers to illnesses such as dysentery and cholera.

This monumental issue, hidden high in the clouds on the world's highest peak, is a poignant reminder of the impact our adventures can have on the natural world. The need for sustainable solutions has never been greater, leading to the introduction of an unlikely hero in this struggle - the poo bag.


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The Poo Bag Solution: A Practical Approach to Waste Management

Addressing the pressing issue of human waste on Everest requires a feasible, practical approach that aligns with the harsh realities of mountain climbing. The innovative solution of the poo bag emerges as an effective tool in mitigating this environmental crisis. These specially designed bags, portable and compact, can easily fit into climbers' gear without adding significant weight or hindrance to their expedition. 

The design of these bags takes into account the unique conditions of Everest. Crafted to be resistant to extreme temperatures, they are also equipped with a special gel that aids in neutralizing odors and decomposing waste, thereby minimizing the potential health risks associated with human feces.

The purpose of these bags extends beyond just a convenient disposal method. They serve as a tangible commitment to responsible climbing and sustainable practices. By carrying their waste down the mountain, climbers are physically embodying the principle of leaving no trace behind. In essence, each bag carried down the mountain signifies a step towards reversing the trend of waste accumulation on Everest.

Implementation of the poo bag solution also aligns with a broader shift in attitudes towards outdoor adventuring. Adventure seekers worldwide are being encouraged to adopt 'leave no trace' principles, which extend to all aspects of their journey, from picking up litter to managing human waste. The use of poo bags on Everest is, therefore, a small part of a more significant movement towards responsible exploration.

Admittedly, the introduction of poo bags represents a significant change in climbing practices. It demands a shift in mindset and behavior, where climbers must take conscious actions to manage their waste. However, this change is a necessary one, critical to preserving Everest's fragile ecosystem and maintaining the sanctity of this iconic summit.

To ensure the effective use of these bags, climbers must be informed about their importance and trained on their correct use. Therefore, the responsibility also lies with expedition companies and guides to educate climbers about the severe implications of human waste on Everest and the role of poo bags in mitigating this issue.

In summary, the poo bag solution is a practical, effective method of waste management that serves as a tool for climbers to embody responsible climbing practices. It is a testament to human innovation and adaptability, demonstrating how even the most fundamental human functions can be managed sustainably in the most extreme of environments.

Latrines at Camp 1 on the Mount Vinson Climb in Antarctica


Regulation in Practice: Accountability and Compliance

To enact this waste management policy, new rules have been established. Climbers are now required to display their full poo bags when they return to base camp. This condition serves to hold every adventurer accountable, certifying they have complied with the mandate and have not abandoned their waste on the mountain. This rule reinforces the principle that every climber is responsible for managing their personal waste. A failure to uphold this responsibility can have serious consequences. Penalties could be levied against those who do not follow the new regulation, and could potentially include prohibitions from participating in future climbs. Such measures underscore the severity of the issue and the necessity for strict waste management on the mountain. This active enforcement aims to mitigate the ever-growing problem of human waste in the Himalayas. The strategy ensures that the impact on the mountain is minimized and that our adventures do not compromise the health and integrity of this stunning natural wonder.

Keep Reading: 5 of the Best Mountaineering Backpacks

Examples from Other Summits: A Global Initiative

While the problem of human waste on Everest has gained considerable attention recently, it's worth noting that several other iconic summits across the globe have already established similar waste management protocols. Case in point: Mount McKinley in Alaska and Mount Aconcagua in Argentina. Both these towering peaks mandate that climbers return from their challenging expeditions carrying not just their equipment, but also their biological waste.

This global endeavor isn't just about preserving the mountain environment for its aesthetic value, but it's fundamentally about recognizing our shared responsibility towards the natural world. When we step into these breathtaking landscapes to fulfill our adventuring spirits, we become stewards of the environment, committed to protecting and preserving it, no matter how high we climb or how far we travel.

On Mount McKinley, climbers are expected to carry Clean Mountain Cans, a portable toilet system designed for high-altitude usage, to manage their waste. Mount Aconcagua, the highest peak outside of Asia, implements a similar policy, where climbers are provided with containers for waste storage at the beginning of their expedition. The practice of hauling out human waste has become a crucial part of mountaineering ethics on these peaks.

Climber with CMC on pack. Image courtest of Coley Gentzel via https://www.nps.gov/


Enforcing such practices on Everest has been a bit more challenging due to the mountain's extreme altitude and harsh weather conditions. Yet, with the advent of innovative solutions like the poo bag, managing human waste sustainably has become more practical, even on the highest peak in the world.

This broader global effort reflects a much-needed change in attitude towards our outdoor adventures, emphasizing the importance of not only conquering these summits but also preserving them. It is about acknowledging that our adventure dreams should not come at the expense of the environment.

So, as we look towards Everest and other iconic summits, it's clear that these waste management practices are more than just rules to follow. They are symbolic of a growing awareness and respect for the environment. Each bag of waste carried down not only helps keep the mountains clean but also represents a collective commitment to safeguarding our planet, one summit at a time. As adventurers, we carry the power to make a positive impact with every step we take. And in the end, isn't that the greatest adventure of all?

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What Does This Mean for Adventure Seekers?

For those with a spirit of adventure, these new policies might appear as another rule in the book. But in reality, it's a call to action. Being an adventurer isn't just about the adrenaline rush or reaching new heights, it's about respect for the environment and the landscapes we traverse. Part of the thrill of the journey comes from knowing you've been responsible and respectful along the way.

A crucial aspect of this responsibility is managing your waste. Undeniably, it can seem like an added chore, especially when you're battling harsh conditions and challenging terrains. However, the role it plays in preserving the integrity of the mountain can't be overstated. Managing your waste, including using poo bags for your Mount Everest poop, is an essential part of responsible adventuring.

But it's more than just following a rule. By using these bags, you're making a tangible commitment to sustainability. You're demonstrating respect for the environment and the iconic landscapes that fuel your adventure. You're playing a vital role in ensuring that these magnificent peaks remain pristine and safe for future climbers and generations to come.

And remember, it's not about adding another task to your climbing checklist. It's about integrating sustainable practices into your adventure. It's about understanding that the highest peak is worth preserving and that the thrill of the climb should never come at the cost of the environment.

So as you gear up for your next adventure, remember to pack your determination, your courage, and, yes, your poo bag. Adventure is calling, and it's asking us to be better stewards of our natural world. So let's answer that call with respect and responsibility, one bag at a time.


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Everest Base Camp (Tibet)
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Everest via Northeast Ridge (Tibet)
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