"Clean Mountain Cans" a solution for high-altitude human waste

Wed Jul 28, 2010 12:39am EDT
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By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters Life!) - When nature called on North America's tallest peak, climbers answered for decades with an improvised sanitation system.

They dropped their feces into glacier crevasses, trusting the force of moving ice to grind the waste material away.

Now that practice is being phased out. Climbers on 20,320-foot Mount McKinley and other snowy peaks in Denali National Park are required to haul out their wastes from at least portions of the mountains.

At the same time, the National Park Service has commissioned a multiyear study to determine the environmental impact of waste thrown over successive summers into the crevasses of the Kahiltna Glacier, the vast river of snow and ice that flows along much of the main McKinley climbing route.

"Theoretically, it gets ground carried 30 miles down the glacier. It should break down. Theoretically," said veteran Denali mountaineering ranger Roger Robinson, who has for years led a charge to clean up McKinley and other park mountains.

Robinson's efforts have resulted in widespread use of plastic containers known as "Clean Mountain Cans," which serve as ultra-portable, snap-shut toilets, strapped to climbers' packs and toted around the mountain.

The cans, issued to each climbing team in Denali National Park, were introduced on a test basis in 2000. They are now mandatory, under rules enacted in 2006.

Once brought off the mountain after expeditions, which usually last three weeks, they are returned to authorities, cleaned by a contractor in Wasilla and put back into service.   Continued...