Study: 29% of McKinley West Bustress Climbers Get Diarrhea

Wilderness & Environmental Medical Society reports that 29% of all of McKinley’s West Bustress climbers get diarrhea.

The report is dryly called Gastroenteritis Outbreak Among Mountaineers Climbing the West Buttress Route on Denali—Denali National Park, Alaska, June 2002; Wilderness & Environmental Medicine], 2005; Vol. 16 (2):92-96

The Center for Disease Control had ordered the study after suspects high rates on the mountain because climbers are going to the bathroom in the snow and not boiling their water.

Latrines are located at 7,200 and 14,200 feet. Existing regulation requires that climbers use latrines, put their fecal waste in a crevasse, or carry it off the mountain. But because of the deadly risk of falling into crevasses, as well as extreme cold, blizzard conditions, and fatigue, climbers often decide to defecate on the snow while traveling in or near their camp. High winds can then spread fecal particles onto the top layers of snow, which is the water source for climbers.

In a study among 132 climbers:
• 38 (29%) climbers had diarrhea at some point on the mountain
• 51 (39%) saw snow contaminated with feces in or near at least one of their camps
• 103 (78%) collected snow for consumption within 10 m from camp
• 14 (11%) admitted to defecating directly into the snow
• 74 (56%) rarely or never boiled or purified their water

Read the 5 page study

Wilderness & Environmental Medicine is a peer-reviewed quarterly medical journal published by the Wilderness Medical Society. For more information, visit

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