Leave No Trace

LNT 10 - Poop soup

Hello All -

This is the last message (whew!) dealing with the LNT Principle:

Properly Dispose of What You Can't Pack Out

The last two messages listed some of the solutions that we might want to consider when dealing with that obnoxious human waste that we humans tend to leave laying around our wonderful backcountry.

Once again (again, Again, AGAIN!)...we ALL do damage when we visit and leave anything behind in the backcountry. We can no more avoid this than we can levitate and hike in a space suit <g>. Our LNT goal is always to eliminate or minimize as many of our damages as is humanly possible...so the little ones don't get to add up to big ones that mess everything up!

All the obnoxious wastes CAN be a pain to deal with. The additive nature of the damage done by the 4 C's is insidious...a minor damage quickly becomes a major damage when it is done over and over by one camper after another. All we can do is try to get a BUNCH of help and chip away at it as best we can!

Our crap is a good case in point <g>. There is a HUGE difference between what a self-actuated idealistic hiker and Joe six-pack is willing to do with their feces. We (all!) need to be willing to teach whatever it takes to reduce the impact as much as we can. If we can convince a Yale-yuppie to pack his waste out, then let's have at it. If the best that we can do is to get Joe S. to not take his dump in the middle of the trail, then so be it. We MUST find ways to dispose of our wastes that folks WILL use in the backcountry. We ain't got no Poop Police!

I find that I tend to hold a minority opinion among the LNT'ers I work with. A very VOCAL minority opinion...but still a minority opinion none the less (I am working on them...). If you can't handle a little LNT subversion, you might as well stop here and go visit the LNT foundation (LNT, Inc.) web site...they ARE good folks!

I must admit that I think that focusing too much on just the TP is silly. It's the crap that kills. I worry a LOT about what happens as the little bags of used TP (or feces!) start to get mixed with our food as they get bear bagged, jostled in the pack, packed/repacked, etc. I absolutely without a doubt know that natural TP does NOT work for everybody (sounds a little like personal experience, doesn't it <VBG>)...and I have serious doubts that it is a more environmentally benign choice than the option given below. I am horrified at the thought of armies of sub-teen boys smearing their crap over every available surface. And, I ain't any too thrilled with the idea of creating all over our backcountry thousands of concentrated "Ft. Knox" (keep it forever!) deposits of our precious poop...all those pit latrines.

I find that there is an "elegant" solution to the whole problem that does not force anyone to do anything that is truly repugnant...especially not so repugnant that they will refuse to do it! I have taught this method to thousands of kids and adults alike...and am AMAZED at how receptive 99.99% of them are. I have had a very few refuse to even consider looking at their own crap, much less get near it. I have also had some folks embrace the idea so completely that they consider it a life-changing experience! Thank heaven that most folks fall somewhere in between these two extremes <g>.

I guess the first decision to make is whether or not our crap should be packed out. There ARE some situations that demand this solution , but most Scout units don't have to go that far...yet. The preferred choice ALWAYS is to make use of any potty-system that the managing agencies have put in (ranging from simple latrines to the elaborate systems at the huts in the White Mountains along the AT). I didn't have much trouble finding a potty on the AT at all...I would have quickly exploded if I had waited for one on the PCT <g>.

If we decide not to pack it out and we don't have a potty handy, then the next decision is whether or not there is enough soil available to allow us to use a cathole. If soil is nonexistent, the area is remote, the weather is right (lots of UV!), and we can keep the crap out of the water supply, then the smear technique might be appropriate. I must admit that I seriously doubt that most of us will ever use this technique.

At this point on our decision tree...the very large majority of the time for the very huge majority of us...the "cathole" will now be the method of choice.

As soon as I get the first little twinge, I start looking for a good spot to dig a cathole (thru-hikers are known for having slick innards!). I check the lay of the land...is there a spot where the cathole contents won't be washed into the water source by the next heavy downpour? 200 feet (70-75 long paces) from the nearest obvious channel to the water is usually safe. I like to hunt for a good view, nice shade, no bugs, good breeze, no rocks in the dirt, and a good backrest...<g>. I always look around for a sturdy little stick (about as thick as my thumb and a foot or so long) while I am meandering around. I take it with me as I find a place for the cathole.

When I finally find the perfect spot, I dig the cathole. Ahhhh...what with? I like to use those little plastic orange cathole trowels (used the same one for 1 3/4 thru-hikes). NOLS likes to use the much tougher metal garden trowels. I have used a sharp stick more than once. Whatever we use, the cathole needs to be a true hole in the soil and not just a scuff in the duff.

How deep?

I clear off all the duff (recognizable as twigs, leaves, etc....I save it for later) down to bare soil. Our cathole needs to be dug deep enough to contain our dump completely (won't wash into the water!). We want the feces to stay up in the biologically active layer of the soil (remember the "3-D city"...that dark layer that is chock-full of gazillions of itty-bitty critters who change crap into dirt for a living). Too deep and in many ecosystems I would get down into the sterile mineral soil below the active layer. We want the crap to get transformed into soil, NOT to just sit there waiting for our next visit.

The hole does need to be deep enough so that the contents can be covered sufficiently (couple of inches) to protect them from insects and small animals (the big ones will dig it up no matter what we do!). The relative depth of the various soil layers can be highly dependent on the local ecosystem. The local managing agency folks have a pretty good idea of how deep catholes should be in their area of responsibility...ask them! The most common depth is the six-inch depth of the blade of the little orange trowel (amazing how that works out <g>).

How big around?

Depends...how good a shot am I? How much did I eat yesterday? The most common size I have seen is about 4 to 6 inches in diameter. I always try hard to save the top plug intact if I have to dig thru a root mass to start the hole. I set all the dirt aside so that it doesn't get lost or slide back down into the cathole (I will definitely need it later <g>). In an area with lotsa veggies, many very careful LNT'ers lay down a small piece of plastic (old zip-loc, or something) to store the dirt on (allows them to easily COMPLETELY remove any trace of the dirt, later!).

I take my dump....I will let you figure out how to do yours <g>.

If I miss the cathole, no big deal...I just take that little stick I found earlier and push my pile into the hole (I DON'T use my trowel - that will spread the contamination into my pack! <VBF>).

What about TP?

Believe me, leaving feces on our body is no option. If you have the skills to use natural TP, then have at it (just remember that you are leaving highly contaminated biohazards laying around that are cleverly disguised as natural objects...!). I choose to use the white stuff, myself. 3 or 4 squares of UNSCENTED TP (critters will dig up scented TP to find out what it is!) is almost always more than enough to completely clean myself without getting any on my hands. I drop it into the hole.

I take that little stick and flick some of that biologically active dirt onto the top of the TP. I stir crap, dirt, and TP together completely. As I stir, I rub more and more of that good dirt off of the side of the hole...we want to get PLENTY of those crap-eating critters distributed all through the whole mess <g>. Honest...as soon as the first dirt is mixed into our feces, the smell almost completely goes away! If we have cast-iron bladder control, now might be a good time to add a puddle to wet it all down.

I mix everything up until the TP is so well dissolved that I can't tell that any was ever dropped into the hole and the good dirt is evenly mixed throughout (takes a minute or two to do a really good job). I stick the working end of the little stick into the hole at the side. I put the rest of the dirt that I had set aside back into the hole (with the plug back on top) and tamp it down just a little to seal it good (leaving it loose enough to give the little crap-critters a fighting chance). I smoosh the duff back around the area so that nobody walking by could ever tell that a cathole had ever been dug.

Except for that little stick sticking up!

It makes a great signal to the next person in our group that...if they dig near it...they will be in for a BIG surprise! <VBG>

OK...your homework assignment is to take your cathole trowel out into your back yard and...

See you at "LNT 11- Stop! Thief!"

- Charlie II  AT (MEGA'93)
             PCT (Mex@Can'95)
         Chipping away at the CDT

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