Mount McKinley climbers to get trash bags

Posted: Thursday, March 30, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Hundreds of climbers ascending Mount McKinley during the spring and summer crunch will be handed color-coded bags so rangers can better understand the trash situation on the mountain.

For the first time, climbers will be handed clear plastic bags for human waste and blue garbage bags for trash, said Daryl Miller, mountaineering ranger for the National Park Service in Talkeetna, near the 20,320-foot peak, the tallest in North America.

The clear bags with human waste can be left in the mountain's crevasses where Mother Nature will eventually clear it away. But rangers are asking that all blue bags containing trash be brought to a base camp at 7,200 feet where a helicopter will carry it off McKinley so it can be weighed. The bags for human waste are clear so climbers won't be tempted to use them for trash.

As it stands now, rangers have no idea how much trash is being produced by climbing expeditions.

''We want the climbers to help us,'' Miller said.

While most climbers have the best of intentions while climbing McKinley, the park service routinely removes between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds of trash each year, he said.

Nearly all the trash is left along the heavily-traveled, 14-mile West Buttress route, used by up to 85 percent of climbers. Between 400 and 500 climbers can be on the mountain at the same time, Miller said.

Trash left on the mountain can be covered by snow, picked apart by ravens and blown about by strong winds, which can gust to 100 mph even in the popular summer climbing months.

The trash situation tends to be worse higher up on the mountain where climbers must cope with more extreme weather and altitude. As conditions worsen, bringing trash off the mountain gets bumped down the priority list, Miller said.

''People get up there and get overwhelmed,'' he said.

The trash bags are a reminder to climbers that all trash is supposed to come off the mountain.

As of Wednesday, 767 people had pre-registered to climb McKinley, about 50 more than at the same time last year. The season begins in the last two weeks in April, gets busy in May and June, and tapers off in July. About 1,100 people a year climb McKinley with only a handful tackling the mountain in the off-season.

While the number of people climbing McKinley is holding steady after years of steadily increasing, the number of rescues is going down, Miller said. Rangers expect between six and 12 major rescues a year.

Ninety-one people have died on the mountain. Most of the deaths resulted from bad judgment, Miller said.

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