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[pct-l] Poop soup
Hello All -
As promised, this is the next message <g>.
To Dan: my congratulations...you have read the book and have walked the
walk! Most of the techniques you mentioned have been an important part of
the LNT lexicon since before I started messing around with it. I also
share your frustration with the legions of oinkers who think that proper
disposal of their own waste means simply dumping it somewhere else.
To Andy: I agree...often tis better to gently train than to pitch a fit.
Especially when the offender's bad habits mean he has plenty of ammunition
close at hand <g>. Still, if a fit must be pitched, I can't think of a
To Ben: IMHO, you have hit the nail on the head. We need to get all of
Kevin's good questions answered...and a few others as well. How long do
the pathogens last in a cathole (wet/dry, hot/cold, high/low, soil pH, soil
type, etc.)? Sometimes I feel that the whole TP issue is a big fat red
herring...if we can't solve the problem, then solve a symptom!
Dan did a good job of introducing most of the suggested LNT solutions to
human solid waste disposal. There are some group solutions that are "ripe"
for discussion, but we can save those for another time. "Soft Paths II" by
Dave Cole is an outstanding reference...we all should have it on our
bookshelf. "How To Shit In The Woods" by Kathlene Meyers (sp?) is a hoot
to read and treats the issue with a good mix of humor and common
sense...and is only a little out of date <g>. NOLS has teamed up with the
bigger federal managing agencies to produce a series of pamphlets that
tailor the LNT message to specific ecosystems (do a search on NOLS and
visit their web site).
One important thing to remember is that the LNT message is a moving target!
The very thing that attracted me to the LNT "system" of minimum-impact
backcountry use is the way that it constantly keeps changing as new
research finds better ways to do things. The whole point of LNT is to
help develop a true "wilderness ethic" in all of us...and then to turn us
loose with enough knowledge to be able to make the hard choices that
protect the land in a given place, at a given time, and with a particular
user who is doing his/her own thing. Not a set of hard and fast rules that
have plenty of loopholes for the lawyer in all of us...rather a way to
think that helps us make the right decisions.
Poop 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 crap. 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 to not take his dump in the middle of the trail, then so be it.
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 a minority opinion none the less
<g>. If you can't handle a little subversion, you might as well stop here
and go visit the NOLS web site...
I must admit that I think that the focus on TP is silly. Crap kills. I am
horrified at the thought of armies of sub-teen boys smearing their crap
over every available surface. I worry a LOT about what happens as the
little bags of used TP (and even feces in some situations) start to get
mixed with the food as they get bear bagged, etc. I absolutely without a
doubt know that natural TP does NOT work for everybody...and I have serious
doubts that it is a more environmentally benign choice than other options
(particularly the one below).
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 few refuse to even consider looking at their
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>.
First - what about pee? Turns out that it is no problem at all. I
understand that urine is almost sterile when it comes out of our
bodies...the problem is social, not medical. It stinks...big time! Nobody
wants it around after a few hours in the hot sun. It also creates salt
deposits that attract some animals to the dried puddle (damage veggies,
hang around camp, etc.). The easy solution is to get well away from
camp/trail (remember everyone's privacy needs) and scatter our urine
widely. I tell my Scouts to write their name when they take a whiz (you
ladies are on your own!). I am told that some river paddlers are taught to
pee in the river, rather than in the confined areas they have to camp in.
The only time that I pack my urine out is when caving.
Ahhh...now to the crap. I guess the first decision is whether or not it
should be packed out. There ARE some situations that demand this solution
(caves, some mountaineering locations, some swamps, etc.), but most of us
hikers 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 on 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 and the weather is right (lots of
UV), then the smear technique might be appropriate (my younger Scouts are
not taught this option). The very huge majority of the time for the very
huge majority of us, the cathole is probably the method of choice.
As soon as you get the first little twinge, start looking for a good spot
to dig a cathole (thru-hikers are known for having slick innards!). 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' (75 long
paces) from the nearest obvious channel to the water is usually safe. I
like to hunt for a good view, nice shade, good breeze, no rocks in the
dirt, and a good backrest <g>. Look around for a sturdy little stick
(about as thick as your thumb and a foot or so long) while you are
meandering around. Bring it with you.
When you have found the perfect spot, 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 <g>). NOLS likes to use the metal-handled garden
trowels. I have used a sharp stick more than once.
Clear off all the duff (recognizable as twigs, leaves, etc....save it for
later) down to bare soil. You want the feces to stay up in the
biologically active layer of the soil (that dark layer that is chock-full
of itty-bitty critters who change crap into dirt for a living). Too deep
and you 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 your next visit. The hole does need to be deep enough so that the
contents can be covered sufficiently to protect it from insects and small
animals (the big ones will dig it up no matter what you 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. 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 are you? How much did you eat yesterday? The
most common size I have seen is about 6 to 8 inches in diameter. Be sure
to save the top plug if you have to dig thru a root mass to start the hole.
Set the dirt aside so that it doesn't get lost (you will need it later).
Some very careful LNT'ers lay down a small piece of plastic to put the dirt
on (allows them to COMPLETLEY remove any trace of the dirt, later!).
Take your dump....I will let you figure out how to do that <g>.
If you miss the cathole, no big deal...just take that little stick you
found earlier and push your pile into the hole (DON'T use your trowel -
that will spread the contamination into your pack!).
What about TP?
Believe me, leaving feces on your body is no option. If you have the
skills to use natural TP, then have at it (just remember that you are
leaving 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. Drop it into the hole.
Don't burn it! The managing agency folks are tired of putting out the
fires from burning TP...it's kinda hard to chase a windblown piece of
burning toilet paper with your pants down around your ankles...
Take that little stick and flick some of that biologically active dirt onto
the top of the TP. Stir crap, dirt, and TP together completely. As you
stir, 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. Honest...as soon as the first dirt is mixed into your
feces, the smell almost completely goes away! If you have cast-iron
bladder control, now might be a good time to add a puddle to wet it all
down. Mix everything up until you can't even tell that any TP 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). Stick the working end of the
little stick into the hole along one side. Put the rest of the dirt that
you had set aside back into the hole and tamp it down just a little to seal
it good (leave it loose enough to give the little crap-critters a fighting
chance). Smoosh the duff back around the area so that you can't even tell
that a cathole was ever dug.
Except for the little stick sticking up... It makes a GREAT signal to the
next guy in your group that digging there might not be a good idea!
OK...your homework assignment is to take your cathole trowel out into your
back yard and...
- Charlie II AT (MEGA'93)
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