This blog should actually be re-named “How to Poop in the Desert or Tundra” because in these environments, your Big Wild guide may provide instructions that differ from the standard cat-hole method described in the previous post. That’s because in arid and cold environments such as desert, alpine tundra (above tree-line in the mountains) or Arctic tundra (north of tree-line), decomposition proceeds much more slowly than in the woods. On our Alaska trips, much of the route is through open tundra above and north of the trees. Also, while backpacking in Wyoming or Montana, considerable parts of some treks will be across alpine tundra. Our Beartooth, Absaroka and Wind River Range trips, for example, are partly above tree-line. And Utah backpacking is desert backpacking, even though much of our Utah hiking mileage is along streams with plentiful vegetation. The simplest variation in pooping instructions that you are likely to hear from your guide is to simply dig and reclaim the standard cat-hole as previously described, but without burying your used paper. Burn it instead. If your guide is concerned about fire danger (not usually a problem in desert or tundra), he may provide you with an air-tight zip-lock bag for the paper. But most often, in these environments your guide will simply tell you to burn the paper. That’s pretty simple, and much more sanitary than using any public “rest”room!
There’s one other variation that although rare, bears brief mention. That’s when you’re in a place where there’s no soil, just rocky ground where digging a hole is impossible, and mother nature simply won’t be denied! In this inconvenient circumstance, your guide may simply have you make your deposit on a rock or upon rocky ground, exposed to the direct rays of the sun (preferably facing south or southwest); and do this well away from water, campsites or trails! Burn the paper and let the sun do the rest. That’s because ultra-violate radiation is a great sterilizer and will fairly quickly kill the microbes in your deposit, which will dry out into harmless organic matter. UV radiation is so efficient that studies have show that the purest wilderness waters are actually the surface waters of mountain lakes, where high intensity sunlight kills virtually all bacteria. But again, this scenario is rare, and almost always you will be utilizing the cat-hole method in one form or another.
So eat hardy, and don’t worry in the least about pooping in the wilds; it’s no big deal! Often it’s a great chance to hold still for a little while and listen to bird song or the wind rustling through the pines. Sometimes you’ll be lucky enough to enjoy a great wildlife sighting while fertilizing the soil. And when done correctly, pooping in the wilds is perfectly compatible with maintaining a wild, clean and healthy natural wilderness environment. Happy Trails!
Read our first blog post on how to poop in the woods when trekking in places like Yellowstone Park.