Leave No Trace

LNT 9 - Shinola

Hello All -

This is the second message dealing with the LNT principle:

Properly Dispose of What You Can't Pack Out

The previous message covered some of the miscellaneous "minor" obnoxious wastes we humans leave behind us...this posting (and the next) covers what many consider to be the most obnoxious waste of all - human feces.

I find it very useful to grab a certain factoid and keep it in the back of my mind when I get into this particular discussion: our feces IS a very real biohazard - it can kill us! We don't want to get ANY into our food or water, we don't want to leave ANY on our bodies, and we certainly don't want to share it with other folks.

In short...we don't want to just hide it - we want to make it GO AWAY!

One obvious option, of course, is to take it home and let whatever sewage "system" we have there take care of it. More and more heavily-used and very fragile backcountry ecosystems are demanding such a solution.

Some good caver friends of mine have been doing just this for years. They have long had the ethical courage to do "poop-in-a-baggie" or "ammo-box latrine" when they are on extended exploration/survey caving trips. Removing ALL human waste has long been a way that these good folks protect the VERY fragile ecosystems in their (our!) beloved caves.

We worked with the local NSS Grotto and developed a "honey bucket" (5 gal "pickle" bucket, tight snap lid, multiple garbage bags, and a few drops of odor mask) that allows our Scouts to do cave camping. We use the honey buckets to bring out ALL human wastes (ours and the other cavers, too <g>) and the kids pride themselves on leaving the cave squeaky-clean (even to picking up the drops of candle wax and spent carbide left by others). We have found that the honey buckets also work well for canoe camping in swamps or on crowded rivers. When we get home, the whole bucket goes into the city garbage for incineration.

Climbers, mountaineers, and river rafters are just some of the other backcountry users that have been wrestling with the ethical (and legal!) need to "pack it out" from some of their favorite areas.

Guess what...hikers, too!

Ever had to "go" when you were hiking the AT near the Zealand Falls hut in the White Mountains (NH)? My son and I were "drafted" for an interesting job one evening when staying at that hut (thru-hiker rules). We removed the toilet (floor and all) from a stall, put a lid on the 55 gal drum full of crap we found below, used a chain hoist to get it up to floor level, and then attached a handle contraption that allowed a bunch of us to lift it. We walked it thru the busy dining room, down the porch, and around back...where we put it with all the other drums waiting for the chopper to take them out!

We discovered that all the AMC alpine huts either have very elaborate sewage systems (leaching beds, etc.) designed to be friendly to the very fragile alpine ecosystems...or they fly the crap out by chopper. Only a small % of the feces in the drums comes from the registered guests or croo at the huts (the rest comes from all the other folks who come by as they enjoy the AT and other trails thru the Whites)...but the guest's fees pay for getting rid of it all! I have the "potty break" numbers for the huts in my files back at home...I do remember that the total number each season is staggering <f>.

Many of our most popular backcountry locations are now served by toilet systems that are actually cess pools (holding tanks)...periodically someone drives up (over roads that might not be TOO intrusive!) and pumps them out. This extra expense is needed, unfortunately, because it doesn't take long before the "poop-pressure" on some high-use areas completely overwhelms the ability of the local ecosystems to absorb any more pit latrines.

Individuals packing out their own feces -

"Poop-in-a-baggie" can work. Triple bagging, a drop of odor mask, and VERY careful handling can add up to a very ethical solution to "making the crap GO AWAY" from the backcountry (at least).

Some problems:

Do we mix the feces (a PRIME critter magnet!) in with our other stuff when we do critter protection (bear bag, bear canister, separate from camp, etc.). How do we make SURE that it doesn't get loose and into our food?

Do we have a good way planned out to protect it from all the required handling (packing, unpacking, bear-bagging, repacking, etc.)?

What are the realistic chances of our ever convincing the large majority of backcountry users to do this?

How do we hit the little bag without getting it on our thumbs <g>?

How do we ethically dispose of a plastic bag full of crap when we finally get it out...especially if no incinerator is around?

The solutions listed above at least have a pretty good chance of "making it GO AWAY" - they do allow us to dispose of the feces in the more robust treatment plants at home. The following solutions try hard...but, it is all too easy for something to happen which keeps the feces biohazard around for a long, LONG time (years!).

Pit latrines -

Good for being able to "absorb" the wastes of a LOT of folks when they tend to concentrate in one place. Provides a (usually) acceptable solution for the most squeamish or unskilled backcountry user.

Some problems:

They stink big time...unless they are constructed right (many are not) and someone maintains them well.

In some ecosystems they store large amounts of biohazard in a location (sterile mineral soil below the shallow biologically active layer) that is NOT conducive to EVER "making it GO AWAY."

In all locations, the very large amount of feces being stored is a problem while it sits open and can take a LONG time to cease being an obnoxious biohazard after it is closed.

They leak...sometimes onto the surface land/water and VERY often into the groundwater.

They attract critters...which are a nuisance in themselves and also help spread the crap around (onto our sandwich, maybe...<f>).

Many locations that backcountry folks like to concentrate in have a limited amount of space available for new latrines (and, therefore, limited ability to stay away from the old latrine sites!).

One interesting solution to some of the above problems is to have a human take the crap and compost it (LOTS of work...turns it into a fertilizer used to revegetate over-used areas and removes the biohazard in the process!). It amazed me to discover that the AMC has no problem finding caretakers who are so committed to our backwoods that they will run these composting systems all season for VERY meager pay! Don't get TOO mad at those camp-fees in AMCland...that's how the caretakers get paid.

The "smear" technique -

Some areas have no biologically active soil to deposit the feces in (snow cover, solid rock, desert, etc.). In some very remote areas our crap can be disposed of by smearing it in a thin layer widely over rocks or other hard surfaces which are exposed to the sun (and are well away from local water...200' or more). Ultraviolet light will kill many of the pathogens (in a matter of hours) and the wind will scatter the dried remains. Usually, little smell or visual evidence is left.

Some problems:

Some pathogens (big "G". etc.) might NOT be killed by the UV.

Critters (us too!) get to play in it while the UV is doing its thing.

Pathogens can VERY easily wash/blow into the water supply.

It is getting harder and harder to find a place with so few users that this method would be safe and socially acceptable.

What if you have to go in the late afternoon <g>?

Can you imagine turning a bunch of young boys loose with handfuls of crap? I do NOT teach this technique to my younger Scouts!


Ta daaaa...


The "official" LNT position on TP is:

Use it sparingly (if at all)

Pack it out.

Natural TP -

There are many natural objects which can be made to serve the purpose of removing the feces from our body (soft veggies, smooth sticks or stones, snow, etc.). Since these objects have not been packed in, they don't damage the ecosystem if they are not packed out.

Pack it out -

TP is an unnatural item...it becomes pathogen-laden litter if left on the surface. If dropped in a hole and buried, it often gets dug up (either because a critter is digging up the crap under it for food or because it is scented and the scent is smelled by the critter). Once dug up, it becomes pathogen-laden litter. Packing it out solves this problem.

Burn the TP in the cathole -

Please do NOT do this! The managing agency folks have asked us to spread the word that they are tired of putting out the forest fires caused by burning TP. It is HARD to catch and extinguish a flaming piece of wind-blown TP when your pants are down around your ankles <VBG>!


I have saved what is often the most practical solution for feces-disposal for the end of the "Properly Dispose..." discussion.

I am talking (as everybody knows!) about the "cathole."

In fact, for no extra charge, I will even throw in a little of my own brand of LNT heresy <VBG>.

See you at "LNT 10- Poop Soup"


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

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