Look at that mountain. Isn’t it pretty? Isn’t what you see in the above picture a pretty mountain? “Sure is, Rebecca, you dumb idiot!” you say. “I can recognize a beautiful mountain when I see one, you stupid blogger!” But what if I told you that beneath that pristine snow lies decades worth of hikers’ frozen feces? And that, thanks to climate change, that feces will likely soon be set free from its ice prison, sending tons of human sludge down its slopes? Still see a pretty mountain, or just a big pile of doo-doo?
USA Today reports that Alaska’s Denali, the tallest mountain in North America, harbors 66 tons of frozen human shit left behind by decades worth of hikers. Unfortunately, thanks to our ever-warming planet, the glacier holding much of that shit is expected to start melting, potentially creating a fun river of poop surfacing farther down the mountain. Scientists expect this melt to happen in the next few decades, but some speculate it could start as soon as this summer.
Apparently, hikers have been aware of Denali’s impending poop problem for some time now. The shit’s been amassing since the 1970s, and not all of it is even frozen. Last year, a hiker told The Verge that a campsite at 17,200 feet was “like a cat box,” which sounds almost as unpleasant as hiking up 17,200 feet.
In 2007, the National Park Service started requiring hikers to gather and keep their shit in Clean Mountain Cans, but they were permitted to dump the cans atop the Kahiltna glacier if they were below 15,000 feet. When that glacier melts, another shit river begins.
“We have lost more glacier cover in the Alaskan national parks than there is area in the whole state of Rhode Island,” Michael Loso, a National Park Service glaciologist, told USA TODAY. “One of the consequences of warming temperatures is that the surface of the glacier is melting more quickly,” he said.
The good(ish?) news, Loso says, is that hikers are now voluntarily carrying their crap off the mountain, thanks in part to a National Park Service policy mandating hikers below 14,000-feet keep their waste with them until they’ve completed their climb. “Climbers and particularly guide services are really embracing the new policy and are even exceeding it. It has become kind of an informal badge of merit to carry off all your waste,” Loso said.
That doesn’t spare us the 40-plus years of shit already buried up there, though, so if you’re planning to summit Denali anytime in the next few years, maybe bring some Febreze with you.