|Denali. Portable toilet (encircled)|
called CMC (clean mountain can)
is the 'toilet standard'
Doing a toilet business in the mountains (or any outdoor place) has been a somewhat sensitive topic to some, but in reality – it is something one has to think about, plan for and even get used to! The law of cause and effect is clear, you eat therefore you sh**, simple. Haha!
I have many memorable experiences on this one, and to share some (while avoiding too much info) – it may help offer some tips on how one can easily overcome the challenges of this very basic life’s need.
1. Antarctica. I visited the Ice in Dec2011-Jan2012 for my Vinson climb. Apparently this is one of the most well-protected (by outfitters/climbers/scientists) environment on earth and doing a smelly business is a subject that warrants careful planning and gear preparation and a little bit of skill-building. Nowadays, the almost standard procedure involves the use of a ‘toilet can’ (bigger but better than Denali’s CMC (clean mountain can). This type of plastic can fortunately has a ‘seat’ (i.e. one can actually sit down unlike the CMC. The 2nd item is a personal wag bag. At least you will not be sharing your container with someone else. We did re-use our personal wag bags (it is big, enough for 5+ uses, but of course I only used each 2x max 3x). The wag bag contains powder substance designed to neutralize the bad smell and ‘solidify’ the liquid-crap (I guess for bad stomachs). Hell, with -20C or lower, any liquefied crap will be frozen solid! And the smell? It stays, so forget about it! LEARNING: The combined toilet can and wag bag model – is THE best set-up for portable/ bring-your-own-crap-out expedition. As for ‘toilet room’, it is easy to build waist-to-chest high snow-walls (2 or 3 sides are enough for good cover.
2. Alaska-Denali. When I was there (2008), the standard is CMC. The difference is that, accumulated waste may be thrown in designated areas (by park rangers) somewhere in the glacier vs. Antarctica’s very strict ‘fly out your crap’ regulation. I find that the CMC is difficult to use; first – you can’t sit on the damn can, second – you share the can (with others), which means you’d know what your friends were secretly eating! LEARNING: Best to use the Antarctica-portable, sit-down type of can. Maybe some are already using this. And best to have a personal wag bag if available.
3. Aconcagua-Andes Range. My guides decided to be ‘eco-ideal’ on our last camp. We used normal black plastic bags. The issue – the wind was just relentless in Aconcagua. I tried to hide behind boulders (not much), I tried to put stones on the bag’s side (eventually even inside the bag) to ‘hold it steady’ and I wasn’t very successful. Shooting the tissue (while your half-naked, half-worrying about the about-to-fly-crap-bag) proved to be difficult and in the end, it made our lives more difficult than it already was. A teammate used their tent’s vestibule to hide from the wind - something I will try to avoid, 'les my tent becomes literally crappy!
4. Others. In majority of high camps around the world – it’s really a dump-anywhere style. Cho Oyu camp1 was one of the worst, sometimes folks just crapped in the middle of the camp (for the lack of space to poo). In Everest high camps, it’s the same. Though for me the best is Camp2 (Nepal side) where little boulders can be used as little hiding places. (But one has to be careful as crevasses are all over the place, it’s not good to see a news line saying “Mr. X died in C2 while taking a dump”.)
Some useful tips:
- Wipes or ‘wet tissues’ (ex. wet ones), the non-alcohol version (-alcohol can burn your butt), This is good as ‘starting’ and ‘finishing’ wipes. We also use wipes for ‘spot bathing’ (aka. no-water bathing), but the tissue pack tends to freeze at night. Even day time in really cold places.
- Bring ENOUGH rolls of tissue paper. This is one of my must-have or rather must-have-many given my stomach sensitivity (i.e. high intolerance to dairies). I almost ran out in Vinson but felt ok with my back-up (- the wipes).
- Privacy. In deep-snowy ground, it’s easy to dig 2ft deep (assuming you have a shovel with you) – and that’s enough to hide your butt. Tropical mountains are toilet-friendly, one can hide behind trees, grass, small ground depression or simply using darkness as cover. My only occasional challenges in the tropics are ants and annoying flies.
- High traffic camps (like Everest BC) – best to have your own toilet tent. Our team had one, with a replaceable catch-my-poo blue drum - we’re talking about months of camping here so those big drums can be filled to full, then later brought down by porters.
- Bring Imodium! I have many bad-timing experiences with bad stomach. In Everest, I ate chocolates and ended up with a diarrhea while traversing the Khumbu Icefall! In Pakistan, I had a night crap time (10pm) and during a snowstorm! I have many more but I’ll keep the worse experiences to myself. ;)
- Not directly relevant but - EAT AS MUCH AS YOU NEED without worrying how much or how often you’d need ‘to go’. Some friends eat little to avoid toilet visits – that’s not good especially if one is tackling big mountains. You’d need the food for energy!
- You may want to bring anti-bac hand sanitizers. Many climbers quit mountains because of sickness – normally caused by hygiene issues. My Denali/Vinson teammates used this sanitizers a lot, and even applied on gloves. (Yes – sometimes we poo with base-layer gloves on).
- Be comfortable taking a crap without a proper toilet! You just need to practise, have tolerance, and a lot of experience! Be tolerant to other people who may be looking at your butt – being a bit exposed is but normal in the mountains! I’ve seen many butts in my life (women and men). On taking crap - some of my colleagues actually ‘enjoy’ it. In Cho Oyu – we even have a ‘volume contest’ (to force ourselves to eat plenty). I still vividly recall my team mate, entering the dining tent with a big smile on his face, announcing – “Guys, I did a kilo!” Now, that’s a lot of crap! :)