Denali National Park Hikers Are Contaminating Glacier by Leaving Their Poop

Most backpackers can count on their packs weighing less on the way down the mountain than they did going up, but in Denali National Park there’s one more thing hikers might soon be expected to bring off of the mountain with them—their poop.

Officials at Denali and researchers are now exploring the option of limiting the disposal of human waste on the mountain, a move that would mean some hikers would have to take their waste with them.

Currently, hikers at Denali, formerly Mount McKinley, are provided with “Clean Mountain Cans” by park rangers to use for the duration of their hike. The CMCs, introduced in 2007, are essentially portable toilets designed to hold up to 1.88 gallons of human waste, according to the National Parks Service.

Hikers use the portable toilets equipped with biodegradable bags to capture and carry their waste from the 17,200 foot camp that was dirty with waste before the CMCs were introduced. Not only did the waste at the camp cause it to be unsightly but it also led to the spread of disease and gastrointestinal illness through water contamination.

denali cmc Hikers on Denali are provided "clean mountain cans" or portable toilets to collect their waste in during their trips. NPS

Once hikers capture their waste in the CMCs they then drop it into deep crevasses in the glacier’s surface between the 14,200 foot elevation camp and base camp. But research from Michael Loso, a geologist with the NPS, shows that the current practices might also be harming the glacier and overall environment in the park, The Guardian reported.

Roughly 1,200 hikers are disposing of their waste in this manner every year. That means there has been about 215,000 pounds of human waste deposited on the glacier since the first ever hikers visited the park, according to NPS.

denali national park Hikers at Denali National Park currently throw their poop in to crevasses along the glacier, soon they might have to carry it down the mountain with them. NPS/Nathan Kostegian

All of that waste gets buried each year because the crevasses are located in the accumulation zone where snow falls and builds up the glacier. But when the glacier flows, the waste flows as well, making its way to the ablation zone, where the glacier melts out at a lower altitude, according to NPS. The study Loso did shows that the human waste and the bacteria it contains is already entering the water and making its way downstream.

Loso and his team plan to do more research on the rate of flow as well as alternative options for waste disposal moving forward, said NPS.

The National Parks Service and park rangers at Denali did not immediately respond to Newsweek’s request for comment.