|Waste Management in the
Who Gives a Shit?
It's a beautiful day on Mt. Baker. Your party is setting up their camp on the Hogsback with the hopes of
attaining the summit early the next day.
As you put up your tent, you notice something. Decaying toilet paper. You move your camp to a different
location and find more decaying toilet paper. Yet another location; nope, there's new toilet paper and a bit of
human waste here. Where ever you go, the lucid remnents of angry bowels are there to greet you...
As more and more people visit the backcountry, the evidence of their presence is everywhere. Not in fire pits
or in candy wrappers, but in shit. There is shit everywhere. There is toilet paper everywhere. Ignorance
The classiest of backcountry users and the most savy climbers are aware of their impact. They are aware that
they are not the only ones to use a particular location. They are aware that what they do will have a lasting
impact on other visitors. They know how to properly dispose of their waste and they do it.
The first indication of a inexperienced or ignorant backcountry user is the way that they go to the bathroom.
Usually this person will hold it for as long as they can, then they will find a spot that they think nobody will
ever visit, and and that's when they let loose. Once they are finished, they flag their shit with toilet paper so
that it can easily be found again.
This is stupid. This is ignorant. This is a major cause of concern for both the climbing and backcountry
communities. Every person can make a difference. Every person can have an impact. Every person can
make it better.
First and foremost, one's goal in the backcountry should be to make sure no one knows that anyone has ever
visited before. This means following certain rules when dealing with human waste management. In other
words, if someone comes across the place where you had to drop trow, there should be no evidence that you
were ever there.
To properly dispose of human waste in the backcountry, there are four methods that should be followed based
on the given territory. They are Bury, Toss, Smear, and WAG.
1) Bury: If below the treeline, one may bury waste in a cathole. This should be at least six inches deep.
Toilet paper should be either burned and then buried with the waste or packed out. Packed out is always a
better option. After burying the waste, it should look like no one has ever been there.
2) Toss: The toss method is prefferable only on low use alpine climbs. Obscure mountians with obscure
glaciers are ideal for this method. The idea is to go on a rock on a moraine. After the business is finished,
throw the rock down the moraine. The waste will scatter all over the place, bake and blow away. Pack out
all toilet paper following this. An alternative would be to go next to a crevasse, then toss it in. It is then
possible to wipe with snow or toilet paper. If the latter is used, pack it out. These methods should only be
employed in low use areas, not on Cascade Volcanos.
3) Smear: In this method, one should smear human waste in a thin layer on a large boulder that is directly in
the sun. The waste will bake and blow away. All toilet paper should be packed out. This method should not
be used on popular routes.
4) WAG: The best all around method for dealing with human waste is to pack it all out. This method (known
as the blue-bag method) has been employed for years on Mt. Rainier and in other locations, but is slowly
becoming popular throughout the mountains. In this method, a climber essentially goes in a special bag which
is then tripple bagged so that it can easily be carried out. WAG bags are available at most ranger stations free
If you are unwilling to use a WAG bag then you are not really worthy of climbing in areas where they are
required. You are the problem. These bags are the simple solution, get over it and use them.
Perhaps the greatest challenge currently facing climbers in the Pacific Northwest is ignorance concerning
backcountry waste disposal. This single problem is a major contributer to the plethora of proposals for
limiting the number of climbers in many areas. It is our responsibility as a climbing community to police this
problem and make sure that the people in our user group are doing everything that they can to minimize the
human impact on the fragile alpine environments that we all love.