Thursday, October 31, 2013

How to Manage Human Waste at Crowded Cliffs

My dog ate human feces at Farley last Saturday. Twice. My friend Rick's dog ate some too. One might argue that the easiest solution to this problem is to leave one's dog at home. This could be a good way to prevent our dogs from eating human feces, but it doesn't address the real issue. As our crags become more crowded there are more individuals who don't dispose of their human waste responsibly (lame!).

The first mound of feces the dogs ate last Saturday was five feet away from the base of the cliff. It wasn't buried, and the toilet paper was left on top of the stinky pile. The second was left, unburied, in the middle of the approach trail.

Two winters ago a climbing partner of mine set his pack in a pile of crap at the base of an ice route in Chapel Pond Canyon in the Adirondacks. A few seasons before that I got shit on my knee while climbing an ice route in the Catskills. Somebody took a dump in the drainage above the route and it washed down the climb during a mid-winter thaw. For the rest of the day, every time I stepped up on my left leg I smelled someone else's dookie. Nice.

Disposing of human waste improperly is irresponsible. There's a reason we have septic and sewer systems where we live and work - feces transmit disease and pollute the water supply. Additionally, sitting down in or setting your pack on top of a stinky pile of poo can absolutely ruin a perfectly good day of climbing.

How do we manage our human waste at busy crags? Here's a short list of things we can do to make sure other people don't have a crappy day at the crag:


  1. Adjust your routine. If you're the type of person who always has to go just before climbing, try going to the bathroom ahead of time. Many crags have a toilet at the trailhead.
  2. Walk back to the toilet. How hard is it to walk ten minutes? When is a toilet too far away? I'll gladly walk (or run) 5-10 minutes if it means I can use the toilet in the Trapps or at Farley. On a busy day it's pretty hard to find a private spot to go anyways.
  3. Discuss Leave No Trace ethics with your group. I don't go through all the LNT principles with every group of climbers I'm out with, but I do make sure that people are using common sense and know where to go to the bathroom at the crag.
  4. Role model responsible human waste disposal in front of new climbers. Make sure everyone knows what to do when #2 happens. The pile of crap we found five feet away from the cliff was clearly not left by an experienced climber. No climber in their right mind would leave a steamy dookie at the base of a popular climbing area. However, people new to climbing, or unfamiliar with LNT (Leave No Trace) principles, just want a private place to go and don't think about where climbs start.
  5. Carry a shit kit. I always carry a kit with me. My kit includes toilet paper, Wet Ones, plastic bags, and a Wag Bag or Restop. This way, if I have to go, I can manage it effectively.
    My kit includes WAG bags, TP, Wet Ones, and plastic bags
  6. If you're at a remote, seldom visited crag bury your feces well. If you're going to leave your feces, make sure you dig a sufficiently deep hole (a nut tool can be used as a pick to loosen firm soil), go in the hole and then cover it well. Don't be lazy. Pack out your T.P. (using plastic bags from your kit).
  7. If you're at a busy crag with no toilet nearby, use a WAG bag or Restop to pack out your feces.  That nice dark recess, cave or corner is probably the start to an awesome V10 or 5.12. Don't go there. It's true, poo stinks. If it's yours, it's your responsibility. Nobody likes to carry their waste out, but it's the best solution. WAG bags, which come with toilet paper and an antisceptic wipe, are $3 each and work really well. They still stink a bit, but it's nice to know your not leaving anything behind. I'll gladly give mine away to anyone at the crag if they actually need to use it (if there's no toilet reasonably close by)
Share this post with your friends. The more people read this and choose to act responsibly the cleaner our crags will be.