How a Sorority Girl Ended up Atop Cincinnati’s Highest Garbage Heap

Her summer job came with an unexpected perk: a new appreciation for Mt. Rumpke.

It was the summer after my freshman year at Miami University. I’d been hired as marketing coordinator for a local junk removal company to distribute promotional materials and be a pleasant face for networking events. I was peppy and young and lacked basic social inhibitions, so it was a good fit.

Illustration by Zachary Ghaderi

There was a labor shortage one week, and the company didn’t have enough hands to complete its scheduled junk-removal jobs. My boss asked if I’d like to “hop on the truck” and get some “first-hand insight” into the company. Sure, I said, I love a good adventure! Little did I know it would land me atop Mt. Rumpke.

My fashion style then was sorority chic, meaning lots of pearl earrings and popped collars, which were very cool in 2005. But on this marketing-turned-manual-labor job, I wore unisex navy workpants, steel-toed boots, a company T-shirt two sizes too big (because every other employee was a middle-aged man), and a branded blue baseball hat that was never intended to be tomboy-cute. The job was straightforward: Go to people’s homes and remove their junk. We cleaned out attics, basements, garages, and backyards. We hauled remodeling debris, broken toys, sunken couches, and even a refrigerator or two. It was hard and sweaty work, yet I kept up with the boys just fine, thankyouverymuch.

At the end of the workday, like every neighborhood garbage truck or junk-removal crew across the Cincinnati area, we lumbered up the utility path of Mt. Rumpke (a.k.a. Rumpke Sanitary Landfill) in Colerain Township. Up and up we wound around the massive mountain of trash. The higher we climbed, the lower my stomach dropped. We reached the top at last, a plateau of garbage growing daily by 6,000 to 9,000 tons. A cocktailed collection of spilling trash bags, broken furniture, decomposing food, and diapers. So. Many. Diapers.

The ground trembled from the heft of the trucks. A yellow-brown ooze slushed around the soles of my boots. The stench of rot and festering food clung to the July humidity and my hair. If only my sorority sisters could see me now!

And yet the panorama was a sight to behold. Mt. Rumpke is fabled to be the highest point in Hamilton County, and I’m delighted to report the rumors are true. At 1,064 feet above sea level, its apex awards an impressive view. On a clear day, you might even glimpse the downtown skyline.

There’s a reverence when standing atop Mt. Rumpke, a sort of acknowledgement about human behavior and the necessary evils of our existence. It’s humbling to feel an entire city’s trash beneath your feet, a weightiness for how we regard our possessions, our planet, and our city.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Visitors are welcome for free, guided tours with groups of 10 people or more. Boots are optional, but I highly recommend them.

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