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Packing Out Waste: You Can Take It With You

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