More than 4,000 people have ascended Mount Everest since Sir Edmund Hillary first stood on the highest point of Earth's surface back in 1953. At the time, the deadly 29,000-foot (8,850-metre) summit was literally untouched by humanity, because no one had ever stood at its peak or took a poop all over its foothills.
Those days are long over, because the world's tallest mountain is now covered in over 10 tonnes of human poop, and littered with broken supplies and oxygen tanks. Yup, glory-seeking explorers are ruining the most iconic mountain range on our planet.
According to Peter Holley at The Washington Post, over 11,793 kg (26,000 pounds) of human poop is hauled away from the mountain every season by local Sherpas who dump the waste in pits near Gorak Shep, a small village about 5,163 metres (16,942 feet) up.
During this short, two-month long window, when conditions on the mountain are ripe, hundreds of climbers set out from base camp to hopefully reach the peak. Though not all of them obtain their goal, they all leave behind a massive amount of poop and supplies for others to worry about.
How did this happen? Well, climbers usually dig holes in the snow to use as makeshift toilets. After their business is done, they simply cover it up and go about their day. But since the poop isn't going anywhere, these makeshift toilets that were once mere holes in the ground have been piling up for years. The worst-hit areas are right outside the camps climbers commonly use to acclimate themselves to the altitude, Holley reports.
As the waste problems get worse and worse, local water sources are slowly morphing into poisonous sludge. The pit at Gorak Shep is basically a giant vat of disease risk that locals have to deal with constantly. To make matters worse, the waste doesn't disintegrate because of the region's chilly climate. Instead, it freezes and stays around for way longer than it would in a warmer area.
The good news is that people are trying to come up with a solution, since no one wants to see one of the most spectacular natural landscapes in the world become a giant poop-sicle. One of the leading ideas comes from engineers from the Mount Everest Biogas Project, who hope to turn the pit at Gorak Shep into an energy source.
As Renee Morad reports for Discovery:
"The digester itself will be covered in R-50 insulation and a 200-watt resistor coil, which is similar to those found in water heaters, to deliver heat. Engineers determined that an additional 100 watts would be needed to keep the contents of the digester, which would be buried in the ground, at a temperature of 86 degrees Fahrenheit or higher."
To power the device, the team plans on implementing a series of solar panels. If this becomes a reality, the poop pit could actually give back to the locals who've had to put up with it for years. However, this doesn't solve the litter problem that's also growing worse with each passing year, despite the Nepali government mandating that all climbers bring 8 kg (18 pounds) of trash down with them or they lose their deposit.
Hopefully a solid solution to both issues will arise before the mountain is too polluted, but only time will tell…