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Backpacker Magazine – June 2008

Packing Out Waste: You Can Take It With You

Hikers learn to leave (absolutely) no trace on high-traffic peaks and trails.

by: Dougald MacDonald

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In 2007, rangers removed the last toilets from Mt. Whitney. (Laurence Parent)
Photo by Packing Out Waste
In 2007, rangers removed the last toilets from Mt. Whitney. (Laurence Parent)

Ryan Zondervan wasn't pleased when a ranger handed him a WAG bag along with his group's permit to climb Mt. Whitney last summer, but he also wasn't surprised. He'd heard about the new rules asking hikers to carry out their poop along with their food waste and energy bar wrappers. Zondervan used his WAG Bag at Whitney's Trail Camp, at 12,000 feet, where a privy stood until last season. After reaching the summit, he picked up the bag on his descent and carried it more than six miles to the trailhead, where he dropped it in a trash can–his small contribution to the more than three tons of waste hauled off the mountain in 2007. "The convenience issue is definitely a big thumbs-down, but I understand the need for measures like this," says Zondervan, a Seattle resident.

Packing out personal waste is not a new concept. Climbers on Mt. Rainier started using "blue bags" in the early 1980s, and mandatory carry-everything-out programs later spread to popular peaks like Shasta and Denali, as well as to environmentally sensitive Utah canyons like Buckskin Gulch and the Virgin River Narrows. But the addition of Mt. Whitney to that list signals a new willingness by land managers to use this tactic on trails where backcountry toilets are impractical to build, and the routes are too trafficked or rocky to absorb the impact of numerous cat holes. Starting this summer, the thousands of Grand Teton National Park visitors who cross Jenny Lake to reach popular Cascade Canyon will have free access to bags. And Hawaii Volcanoes National Park soon will hand out waste bags with hiking permits for Mauna Loa.

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Oct 12, 2012

The whole idea is dumb poop is biodegradable WAG bags are not. Also the only proper place to dispose of them goes to the landfill. I am very pro take your trash with you but poop isn't trash it's biomass. The environment has dealt with poop from before the dinosaurs I think it can cope with a little human processed Mountain House Lasagna.

Sep 27, 2011

The wag bags are being left all over the trail. This experiment is not working. How many are hiding off trail? People are crapping on the rocks. It stinks. Bring back the solar toilets.

Eric Nelson
Oct 22, 2010

Many of you are right in saying we poop just like animals and should not have to succomb to the barage of regs for the backcountry. However, when humans pile up in an area like Mt Whitney or Rainier or Zion NP Narrows, we have to make the choice to remove our solid waste in all forms. How many pumas or bruins live in an area? You'd be lucky to see one in several square miles. These large predators have a sparse population. How many humans do you see in the backcountry of the Tetons on any given day. I would guess at least four or five and more likely a dozen. C'mon folks we just have to be more responsible about our refuse. The first R in the 3 R's of waste is reduce. It's first for a reason.

Jul 08, 2010

I started using a "Wilderness Waste" bag over a decade ago after a week-long trip in Washington's Alpine Lakes Wilderness at the end of a very dry summer. The ground was hard and dry, and digging a deep enough hole was difficult. Given the number of TP flowers, it appeared a lot of people didn't bother trying. Both ends of the bag open for easy cleaning and it doesn't stink unless it's open.

I find it amusing that people think humans' impact in the back country is no different than animals. If only a handful of us were going out into the back country, they'd be right. But when beautiful wilderness is within a few hours' drive of a million or more people, that wilderness is consistently over-run by us hairless chimpanzees. We are loving the wilderness to death.

Jul 02, 2010

Maybe the next BP gear guide will include reviews of Depends! ;)

Jul 02, 2010

We shall see the effectiveness of this new policy for alpine environments. For some, removing the privacy afforded by the structures is a violation to their personal modesty. Some friends and family members will refuse to go on the trip, rather than suffer the indignity.

JEH of Oregon
Jul 02, 2010

I've been up Whitney and used the bags. I absolutely support the idea. There's no soil to bury stuff in, lot's of people leave their waste on the ground, and it's disgusting. It's not that big of a deal to handle. And, I'm glad I didn't have to share space at Trail Camp with a porta-potty.

JEH of Oregon
Jul 02, 2010

I've been up Whitney and used the bags. I absolutely support the idea. There's no soil to bury stuff in, lot's of people leave their waste on the ground, and it's disgusting. It's not that big of a deal to handle. And, I'm glad I didn't have to share space at Trail Camp with a porta-potty.

Mike in Oregon
Jul 02, 2010

I don't think this is environmentalists gone crazy. It's selfish, irresponsible people being the children that they are. It is possible in most (not all!) areas to properly bury poop but people don't do it. Because of them rules like this emerge.

Pam E.
Jul 02, 2010

You wouldn't object if you'd ever come across a "poop" pile in the wilderness. There's plenty out there especially in the Sierra. Nature can't absorb the waste of thousands of intruders into her wilderness. If you want to go into the wilderness for whatever reason (sport, machismo, pleasure or spiritual uplift) you should be willing to leave nature as untouched as possible for the millions of others who want to experience it. You carry it around in your body, why can't you carry it in a bag?

Jul 02, 2010

The real solution is to install functioning toilets on Whitney. The Wilderness Act does allow for minimal structures where necessary, the rangers have tent cabins not far from where the toilets used to be. The wag bags work, but unfortunately some use them and leave them for others to carry out. Whitney is a unique trail in that many tourons hike that trail and no other.

Aug 21, 2009

Seems reasonable to do this in high impact areas where people are concentrated...

Sep 01, 2008

People will buy into anything...its sad. It's poop people, I think mother nature can handle it. Lets not give companies another product to put out there and make us feel like we need to buy it and charge us some obscene amount of money for it. I agree with clwilla up there, were all animals too!

Aug 28, 2008

I truly understand the idea of "Leave no trace" and respect it, but the idea of putting natures most bio-degradables in plastic? I think id defeats the purpose. Maybe on a mountain where it may freeze, I might understand, but in the back country hinking it makes very little sense.

Aug 24, 2008

High alpine environment does process poo, just very slowly. The thought of walking through, camping among, and taking pictures of these half decomposed poo-piles, wich will show up!, is not something I look forward to. Some areas are so popular, that nature can't keep up with the "load" If we want to walk in "unspoiled" areas, we need to think about there and when waste is disgarded.

Aug 23, 2008

Your all missing the point. Why do you go to these amazing places? To enjoy the beauty and challenge of nature. Not to see, smell, and step in human feces. Whether you bury it or not it takes a long time for mother nature to "handle" the matter. We humans do not eat a bears diet. We eat sh**, no pun intended. The shear number of people who visit these places is overwhelming. Pack out your sh**, don't spoil it for everyone including yourselves!

idaho packer
Aug 22, 2008

Yea.... crap of offers custom gortex bags! It is the latest thing!

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