American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

The Mountain Environment, The Year in Garbage

  • Feature Article
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1999

The Mountain Environment

The year in garbage

by Brent Bishop and Chris Naumann

In the United States and around the globe, there is a growing awareness that climbers must take responsibility for their environmental impacts and even clean up after others. Having a “minimum impact” can no longer be the goal; rather, climbers must strive to have a “positive impact.” Rock climbers contribute to trail erosion each time they visit the crag, and therefore understand that they should initiate and volunteer for trail maintenance events. Similarly, expeditions should not only pack out their own garbage, but also collect and properly dispose of the trash left behind by previous teams. An integral part of accomplishing this positive-impact is maintaining an open forum to address environmental issues and outline strategies by which climbers can make a difference. “The Mountain Environment” section contributes to this forum by documenting the successful clean-up efforts of individuals and teams.

To further address the environmental issues that concern the American Alpine Club and its members, the Mountain Environment section now includes reports of domestic efforts to restore and sustain the alpine regions in our own backyard. The ethic employed on Denali or at Hueco dictates the attitudes and practices exported with an expedition to the Garhwal or Ak-Su. The standards we set and accomplish in the States establish the foundation for traveling and climbing responsibly abroad. The efforts detailed below distinguish those individuals and teams that truly made a difference in 1998. May their commitment inspire our mountaineering ethic to a higher level at home and overseas.

International Conservation

Mount Everest, Nepal

The Spring 1998 season saw three teams actively pursuing conservation work on Everest using the incentive program that was started in 1994 by the Sagarmatha Environmental Expedition. The Boston Museum of Science Expedition, led by Wally Berg, removed 35 discarded oxygen bottles from the South Col. The “Everest Challenge” team’s primary goal, in which they were successful, was to have Tom Whittiker become the first amputee to summit the world’s highest mountain. The team’s environmental component resulted in the retrieval of 89 bottles of oxygen, in addition to the 59 the expedition brought to the mountain, and 1,000 pounds of garbage from Camp II.

The Everest Environmental Expedition ’98 (EEE ’98) retrieved 3,200 pounds of general trash, 49 oxygen bottles (in addition to the 110 used by the team), 211 discarded fuel canisters and 546 used batteries. Most significantly, Pasquale Scaturro and Guy Johnson developed the first system to effectively handle fecal material at Base Camp. Ultimately, the system allowed the team to collect and dispose of 535 pounds of human waste.

The toilet system was adopted from river rafting practices that mandate no fecal material be left behind. American Innotek supplied the expedition with seven- and five-gallon buckets that were fitted with rubber seals and industrial leak-proof screw tops. After each use, an organic powder was added to facilitate the biodegrading process (it was later found that the powder was only effective at lower altitudes). The buckets were used as the team’s Base Camp latrine and at Camp II in the Western Cwm. The buckets at Base Camp were carried down valley to have the contents composted. The buckets from Camp II were hauled half a mile away, where the contents were disposed of in a crevasse. This system, which was used effectively by 12 team members and countless guests in Base Camp, represents a pragmatic solution to the human waste problem that expeditions have historically failed to address. Considering the simplicity and feasibility of the fecal disposal method, it should become the new paradigm for all expeditions.


R.J. Secor, the author of Mexico’s Volcanoes: A Climber’s Guide, reports that the Mexican volcanoes, particularly Orizaba, have seen an improvement in environmental conditions over the last five years. This is particularly due to the efforts of El Groupo de Los Cien, the Mexican conservation group that administers the huts and which has provided the funding to hire a ranger on Orizaba, build latrines at the huts, and remove rubbish from the mountains. Although far from perfect, the huts are becoming cleaner due to the efforts of El Groupo de Los Cien.

Aconcagua, Argentina

Aconcagua receives a tremendous amount of traffic, which brings increased pressure on the environment. Those climbers who have been on the standard route and stayed at Plaza de Mulas will remember the dismal state of the camp. The camp has now been cleaned and moved 100 meters above the old camp. The US $120 permit fee goes directly to the funding for rangers and the removal of trash. To further address the problem of trash, park authorities are issuing trash bags with each permit. Climbers must show their permit as well as the used trash bags to a ranger upon completions of the climb. Teams without a permit and filled trash bag face a fine of US $100.

Matthew Nelson and Mike Wilke from Tucson, Arizona, traveled to Aconcagua not only to climb, but also to undertake a clean-up project on the mountain’s crowded normal route. The two concentrated their environmental efforts on Camp Canada, Camp Alaska, and Nido de Condores. They cleaned Camp Alaska and Camp Canada thoroughly, but were only able to make “a small dent” at Nido de Condores before a storm halted their efforts. All told, the two collected 220 pounds of garbage in just one day. In addition to their clean-up efforts, Nelson and Wilke raised over $2,000 for Native Seeds/SEARCH and FUNAM, non-profit organizations that support the indigenous people of South America, their traditional communities and sustainable environments. Both climbers plan to organize several more expeditions in the near future.

For more information please contact:

Aconcagua Journey

4500 West Speedway Blvd (Gatehouse)

Tucson, AZ 85745

Tel: 520-770-0668

Karakoram, Pakistan

Greg Mortenson of the Central Asia Institute and Brent Bishop, in conjunction with Nike, continued the trash removal and porter training programs they established in 1997. Mortenson and Bishop’s efforts involve the local Balti people in the planning, implementation and evaluation of the projects to insure long-term conservation management. The most significant project of 1998 was the construction of three permanent latrines at the established camps on the Baltoro glacier for use by climbers, trekkers, and porters. The Everest Environmental Project, directed by Bob McConnell, made this project possible with a sizable grant. Thousands of pounds of timber, cement, and other building supplies were carried up the Baltoro glacier to build the latrines. Thanks to the expert local craftsmen, the toilets are so well built that the local military officer asked to store artillery shells in them during the winter!

Mortenson and Bishop coordinated the collection and removal of over 8,000 pounds of tin, glass, plastic and other debris discarded by foreign expeditions and trekking groups. The garbage was carried by porters from the latrine project and several climbing expeditions to Skardu. Porters typically travel back down valley with empty packs after hauling loads up the Baltoro for trekkers and climbers. The Balti porters welcomed the opportunity to supplement their normal salaries with the incentives paid for transporting the garbage.

Continuing the porter training programs that they started in 1997, Mortenson and Bishop conducted several interactive sessions involving over 300 Baltis in the major valleys near K2. Emphasizing the mutual exchange of information and ideas, the porter training curriculum included:

1. Resource conservation considerations, including fuel and firewood management

2. First aid training and safety classes, including crevasse rescue

3. High-altitude disorders and preventative measures

4. Cultural comparisons of the different foreigners visiting the region

5. Discussions on hygiene and sanitation

6. Government regulations and ration allocations

The porters ultimately share this valuable information with others from their villages, benefiting the entire community. In 1999, Mortenson and Bishop plan to remove 10,000 more pounds of garbage and train 1,000 additional porters while continuing the latrine project.

For more information, please contact:

Central Asia Institute

617 South Fifth Avenue

Bozeman, MT 59715

Tel 406-585-7841

Email :

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Kilimanjaro, like other popular peaks around the world, has seen a dramatic increase in adventure tourists and their environmental impact. The campsites and trails to the top of this beautiful mountain have been littered with toilet paper, cigarette filters, and food wrappers. The Kilimanjaro National Park Administration (KINAPA) has made an unprecedented effort to haul trash off the mountain. They have organized regular clean-up crews and have stationed rangers at both Machame and Mweka gates to oversee campsite cleanliness. In addition, 17 toilets have been installed at different high-use areas. Despite these good efforts, KINAPA has been unable to keep up with the ever-increasing pressures.

Last year, Wesley Krause of African Environments, a Tanzanian tour company, received a grant from the Everest Environmental Project (EEP) to undertake the first international clean-up project on Kilimanjaro. Krause, with the support of Mr. Moriana, Senior Warden of the Park, conducted the project from March 26 to April 5, 1999. Park employees had already made considerable progress cleaning up and improving the Marangu route: a new trail from the gate to the summit is nearly complete, and the entire route has seen considerable reclamation. Therefore, all efforts were focused on the Shira, Machame, and the Mweka routes. Over 110 workers, including eight local guide services and members of the Everest Environmental Project, contributed to the clean-up efforts. The Kilimanjaro Park officials provided trucks, tools, and other logistical support. For nearly ten days, workers collected and carried out trash that had accumulated over the years. In addition, countless kilos of garbage were collected and burned on the mountain. The teams were able to remove two abandoned metal huts (weighing more than 1,440 kilograms), one broken toilet from a non-camping area (80 kilograms), and 908 kilograms of non-burnable rubbish.

During seminars held on the mountain, Park officials, guides, porters and volunteers discussed the problems they had seen on the mountain and focused on ways to solve them. The participants proposed that the future areas of focus should include:

1. Promote the incineration of all burnable garbage, and carry out all non-burnable trash

2. Minimize the use of firewood by properly outfitting guides and porters

3. Build more toilets in high-use areas for use by clients, guides and porters

4. Create new trails to reduce environmental impact

5. Request tour operators to educate tourists on environmental issues

6. Coordinate with KINAPA to improve garbage disposal and enforcing regulations

7. Assist local communities with development of recycling programs

The Kilimanjaro Clean-Up Project represents an ongoing effort to promote environmentally sustainable tourism on the mountain through the next millennium. Those who are interested in future Kilimanjaro clean-up efforts should contact:

Wesley Krause

P.O. Box 2125

Arusha, Tanzania

Tel: +255 57 8625/7285

Fax: +255 57 8625/8220


To submit information regarding international clean-up projects (planned or completed) please contact:

Brent Bishop

International Conservation Committee

5530 Stucky Road

Bozeman, MT 59715

Domestic Conservation


The AAC has jointly sponsored a “wise-use” project with the Mountaineering Club of Alaska (MCA). Ralph Tingey, Steve Davis, and Mark Miraglia, of the AAC Alaska Section, have coordinated the design of trailhead signs to be posted at various locations. The signs are provided to remind climbers (and the public) that many of the areas they enjoy in south-central Alaska have the potential of being restricted if people aren’t more cognizant of how their actions can affect the land owner or other users. The signs list a number of common sense “do’s and don’ts” that should result in fewer climber/landowner conflicts, as well as demonstrate to the public that the climbing community is taking a proactive stance in addressing public concerns and land management issues. In addition to an AAC Conservation Committee grant, additional grants have also been received from the MCA and REI, Inc. The signs are currently being made and it is anticipated they will be available for posting in the spring of 1999.


Environmental issues, including trash left on the mountain and the improper disposal of fecal material, are still a large concern on Denali. Denali rangers report that since the climbing rules and regulations were published as booklets and translated into several languages (German, French, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, etc.) for foreign climbers, improvements have been made with trash removal and fecal disposal. However, there is still a small percentage of climbers who do not comply accordingly, and the park has taken steps to address the problem.

After a study last year to track the use and disposal of white fuel cans, changes have been made for the upcoming season. Fuel cans will be marked and signed out. Climbers must return the cans upon the completion of their climb. Teams with unaccounted cans will be fined $150. The same study found that the 11,000-foot camp received more days of use than previously thought. Increased pressure at this camp has resulted in the Park’s decision to place semi-permanent toilets at the camp like the ones found at Kahiltna base and the 14,000- foot camp. Climbers who do not dispose of fecal material properly on the mountain will be fined $100.

Northern Rockies

The AAC made initial contacts with the U.S. Forest Service regarding a proposed trail restoration and improvement project in the Lone Peak Cirque area of the Wasatch Range. The AAC determined that the proposed trail restoration work is already included in the USFS Master Plan for the region. According to John Hendrix (USFS), the regional office in Ogden, Utah, has considered this project to be important for many years, but, in light of the difficulties in finding volunteers to work at altitude, has lacked the resources to organize a volunteer trail construction effort. AAC members Robert Price and Doug Colwell will begin the initial scouting efforts in the spring of 1999 with the USFS to better define the project limits and required work. The USFS has reported that they expect to be able to obtain a categorical exclusion from official assessment; however, public notification will be required before work can begin. The Conservation Committee will provide a grant to support printing, mailing, and organizational costs for the volunteer trail work. The regional forest supervisor is expected to supply necessary materials and tools for the volunteers. Work is anticipated to begin on this project sometime in the summer of 1999.

South Central

The AAC sponsored a major trail restoration project at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in Texas. The trail project addressed erosion and degradation of the hiking and climbing access trails in the Echo Canyon and Motorboat Rock areas of the park. Local Texas climbing organizations from Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio donated the proceeds from their annual Granite Gripper Climbing Competition to launch the project. The AAC Conservation Committee and the AAC South Central Section also provided a grant of $1,000 for the purchase of trail building materials. Imported trail building material (matching granite stone from nearby quarries) was required due to the Natural Area designation of the park. During the past year, nine separate volunteer trail building workdays were held with approximately 20 to 30 volunteers each day. The groups moved over 100 tons of rock using wheelbarrows and other manual means to build retaining walls along steep slopes in the Motorboat Rock area and backfill behind eroded tree roots. The trails and watercourse drainage along Echo Canyon were also improved. An additional $2,000 was secured from Exxon Corporation through employee-sponsored grants by AAC members Natalie Merrill and Paul Majers. Several Texas climbing clubs provided an additional $1,500 in donations. The money will be utilized in 1999 to purchase additional trail building materials and continue the trail restoration work.

In February, 1999, the AAC, Michael Lewis and Barry Wilson (organizers of the Enchanted Rock project) received the “Texas Trail Boss” award from the Texas Trails Symposium in Grapevine, Texas, in recognition for their hard work and organizational efforts. The Symposium was a three-day event sponsored by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, National Park Service and others. The award recognized the significance of the project and the contributions from these two volunteers.

To submit information regarding domestic clean-up projects (planned or completed), please contact:

Mike Lewis

Domestic Conservation Committee

10921 Hollow Ridge

San Antonio, TX 78254

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