Ranger Kathryn's Arches

April 30, 2011

Wilderness bathroom etiquette

Have you ever been upset by the sight of cigarette butts dropped or strewn in public, wondering what madness — or laziness — possessed the owners? Do they think that the butts are not litter, or that nobody will see them, or that nobody will care? Do they want to avoid the bother of disposing of them properly? Gr-r-r-r-r…

Not a pretty sight.

I saw something today that made me far more angry, that no hiker wants to find. Just off a social path in a national park lay a ridiculous pile of toilet paper strips, about fifteen feet worth, next to a large heap o’ poop. Someone had broken all the bathroom rules. Even it if was an emergency, not a single effort had been made to clean up or disguise the site.

Having nothing with which to pick it up and pack it out, I had little choice but to leave it in place to disgust the next hiker who finds it. I’ll carry a ziplok bag and rubber gloves from now on.

Let’s talk a moment about this, shall we? Pooping in wild places is a fact of life. It happens often. It takes but a minute to familiarize oneself with two simple rules of bathroom etiquette, and no hiker should be ignorant of them. Here’s what we teach for the Utah desert:

POOP. The proper disposal, if you’re not packing it out, is in a 4-6” deep cathole which you’ve just dug. (You can use your hand, boot, or a stick to dig it.) Poop in the cathole and bury it. Just like cats do. Easy.

TOILET PAPER. The only proper disposal for your toilet paper is to pack it out as garbage. While in some places you may be allowed to burn it, too many wildfires have resulted locally, and here it is forbidden. You simply place your used t.p. in a sealable bag and pack it out. It takes a long, long time to degrade in the desert, so burying is not the solution.

Follow these two rules and you can feel smug knowing that five days, hours, or minutes later the next hiker passing by will never know what you left in the backcountry.

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