Winter is inching inexorably closer for our Northern Hemisphere readers, and for a few hardy souls (skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers and alpinists) this will bring with it the excitement of days and nights spent in the snowy backcountry. The wilderness may beckon, but nature also calls. What to do our human waste in these pristine environments? Because, come the spring thaw, the evidence, once hidden from view, becomes very exposed. And soon finds itself contaminating nearby waterways.
A couple of years ago the Cairngorms National Park, in Scotland, developed a rather elegant solution to the problem of winter waster or frozen faeces.Poo Project
Although by no means an unique idea, the Poo Project provides snow campers with special water/air tight containers, and biodegradable plastic poo bags.
After picking them up from the Cairngorm ranger's station, the user takes the bags and tube up into the wintery wilds. When the urge requires them to vacate their bowels, they do this into the bags. These are tied shut and stowed in the tube. When coming off the mountain, the user simply drops the bags into the the carpark's clearly marked Poo Chute. This deposits them into the park's sewage system. The tube is throw into a sterilizing barrel next to the chute. The tube is cleaned, so other users can take it into the hills.
Many other national parks around the globe require commercial operators to adhere to very similar principles, when leading paying customers into the mountains. What makes Scotland's Poo Project so different, is it's a service provided to the general public. For Free!
Which is a brilliant service. And we suspect it helps increase mountain visitor numbers, as climbers, walkers and skiers are more likely to expect the mountain waterways are better protected with projects like this happening.
Not every backcountry location is as generous, as the Cairngorms, even outside of the snowbound months. In New Zealand, for instance, the Department of Conservation (DOC) do offer trampers Poo Pots. But they go for $5 NZ, which seems reasonable, until you read their caveat, "Lids can sometimes come off so you may want to carry it inside plastic bags in case this happens." Uh oh!
Some years ago, at the Australian Alps Best Practice Human Waste Management Workshop (I kid you not -- this is a big issue for public land managers) the Australian Army's Adventurous Training Unit and Parks Victoria detailed their many trials with poo tubes. And how they'd come to believe they are the future for protecting wilderness waterways.
Special, commercially produced, portable waste bags are also available, known variously as a WagBag or a Wilderness Waste Containment Pouch. Each such product is provided with a biodegradable powder that users add to their Number Twos to gel them into a more transportable form.
The Hole Truth
Why not just dig hole and bury the waste. At least in the summer months? An exhaustive study undertaking in Tasmania's alpine country found that such ground was often too hard and rocky for the requisite 15cm (6 inch) deep hole to be dug. Particularly with the usual plastic trowel sold in outdoor stores. Furthermore, they determined that whilst in some environments the waste might decompose in 6 months, in other higher locations no degradation had occurred even after two years. That study's recommendation was that there be no disposal of faeces, toilet paper or tissues in treeless vegetation above 800 m (2,600 ft) in particular alpine environments.
Possibly responding to such calls, the Australian outdoor company (with broad distribution in others countries like the US) Sea to Summit, developed their iPood, which is a 99g (3.5 oz) collapsible trowel with a hardened blade and a hollow handle for storing toilet paper.
Leave No Trace
See also the Leave No Trace advocacy organisation for other ways to appreciate a wilderness experience, whilst keeping it unsullied for others to also enjoy. (In America, Australia, Canada, and Ireland).
More about poo
How to Poop in the Woods
G-Word Online Clips: Worm Poop: Video
Oops I Pooped!
Images: Poo Project photo found at The Great Outdoors, Poo Pot (from NZ's DOC), Trowel Hole (from Leave No Trace), and the iPood (from Sea to Summit)