11 August 2016

The Unglamorous Reality of an Adventurous Life

Living an adventurous life isn't always glamorous, especially when it comes to dealing with poop in the backcountry. I dare say poop is the most unglamorous reality of living an outdoor life, followed closely by trash, snot, bugs, blisters, bruises, dirt, hat hair, sunburns, snot (again, because why won't it just stop already?), alarm clocks, nausea, and lack of sleep.

But this blog will focus on poop (sorry mom). More specifically, the grossest thing I've ever done related to poop.

In July, I supported a fundraising climb for SheJumps, a nonprofit near and dear to my heart. Founded 10 years ago by three rad ladies who love the outdoors, this mission of Shejumps is to increase the participation of women and girls in outdoor activities. The whole organization is cool and inspiring and fun and energizing. I love it, and am happy to donate my time and money to support the cause. I encourage you to check it out and make a donation if you're so moved.

But this blog is about poop. Let me get back on track.

Target practice on Mt. Adams.

We had 8 women and 4 female guides going for the summit via the Disappointment Cleaver Route. It's the most commonly climbed route, and snakes up from Paradise along the south-east side of Rainier to reach the 14,410ft. summit. Most people climb it in 2-days. 

As one of 8 members of the support team, my job was to make life easier and more fun for the climbers. With three days on the mountain, the 'supporters' carried delicious, fresh food to camp, built tent platforms, shoveled out a deluxe kitchen and a separate but equally nice bathroom area, melted water, cooked, cleaned, and brought a spirit of fun in the form of music, tutus, onesies, masks, and streamers. Lots of streamers.

Cori embodying the spirit of fun. Photo by Freya.

Since we had such a large group (and let's be honest, a rowdy one), we chose to camp down-mountain from Camp Muir - the traditional mid-way point for climbers. This reduced our impact and gave us a little privacy. I was happy for the extra space. Camp Muir is a beehive of activity in the summer time. Tents are everywhere, humans are strewn about resting their tired soles, and a distinctive stench hangs in the air: the smell of human excrement.

Camp Muir has two or three outhouses with barrels in the bottom to collect waste. When they get full, some poor Ranger has to swap the full barrel for an empty one. When enough barrels are full, a helicopter whisks them back to civilization some 8,000ft down the valley. I always like using the bathrooms at Camp Muir. I enjoy thinking about my poo going for a helicopter ride.

Toilet at Camp Muir in March. Half doors allow you to still get in and out in the winter.

The point of all of this backstory is to tell you: we did not have toilets where we were camping. We were a good 30-minute hike from toilets  actually, so we built our own. This 2'x2f'x2' hole in the ground was designed to offer easy access while shielding our bums from onlookers.

We all learned quickly to employ the "blue bag method".


For the uninitiated, the blue bag method is pooping into a bag, sealing it up, and carrying it back down the mountain. Not everyone is super comfortable with blue bags, and I've been on trips before where someone opts to hold it for 3-days. I do not recommend this.

Places like Mt. Rainier give you blue bags. Literally a blue bag you'd use to pick up dog doody, you fold the top of the bag around two-fingers on each hang and hold it under your bum and relax. When you're done, you drop your toilet paper in the bag and seal it with a twist tie. Then, it goes into a second (clear plastic) bag, which you also seal off with a twist tie. The double bagging method is your key to happiness in the backcountry. It reduces the smell and protects you from the ever-feared bag puncture. Pooping directly into the bag means you don't end up with a poop smear on the snow, and it means you won't pee into the bag. Liquid is heavy and.... runny.

Are you grossed out yet?


Because things are about to get a whole lot worse. All 20 of us were at camp on Friday night and Saturday morning, and most used the facilities at least once. During the day on Saturday, almost all of us went up to Muir at some point, and thus we each carried our own 1-2 blue bags up to Muir to deposit them into human waste containers. Not a big deal. Poop is gross, but we can all handle a little of our own.

Sure looks like a nice place to camp.....little did you know there are blue bags hiding EVERYWHERE!

Then came Sunday morning. The climbers left at 10pm on Saturday night in order to summit and make it back down safely on Sunday before the crowds were overwhelming. They took only the essentials with them and left behind all items not going to the summit: sleeping bags, tents, stoves, extra clothes, etc. Oh, and used blue bags. They left behind used blue bags.

Let me say they were told to do so, and I agree with that decision 100%. But this blog is about gross things and so I want to paint a picture of reality for you.

Sunday morning the support crew team members woke up, made breakfast, and broke camp. For five of us, it was our job to carry the climber's gear up to Muir for the climbers to pick up on the way down without an extra side-trip to camp. They had just climbed up 10,000ft and down 5,000ft in 2-days, and would have another 5,000ft down to go. They earned it!

As we were cleaning camp, I went around gathering blue bags. Many of these belonged to support crew, and at least one of the bags had been left on nearby rocks by another party. I grabbed them all - probably 20 bags in total. The double-bagged blue bags then went into one big garbage bag. Then another.  

This is how I ended up strapping a 15-20lb bag of literal shit to my backpack and carrying it up the hill.

Freya's junk show, with me back-right contemplating poop.

Was it gross? Absolutely.  Am I proud of myself for overcoming adversity (and a gag-reflex). You betcha.

The real crux of the day, however, came when I was about 300' above camp with Cori and the bag started listing to the left. Before I knew it the black bag of butt butter had freed itself from my pack and was trying to make a break for it down the Muir Snowfield. Cori saved the day, stopping the slide before it turned catastrophic. We were going up one way or another, and you bet your blue-bag using ass we secured the shit out of that bag for the rest of the trip.

1 comment:

Brian Larson said...

Great story! Funny as shit! ;-) Thanks for sharing.