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[pct-l] 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! <g>)...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
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...<g>). 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 <g>. 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
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
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 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 <g>.
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
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
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 <g>). 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.
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 itty-bitty critters who
change crap into dirt for a living <g>). 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 <g>). 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 guy 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)
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