December 8, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
If you're over the age of three, you probably think you don't require any instruction when it comes to the rather intimate act of wiping your own behind.
But the unacceptable state of some wilderness campsites in and around southern Manitoba illustrates the unfortunate reality many of us do not, in fact, know how to poop in the woods.
Late in the summer camping season, stomach-churning stories of toilet-paper-strewn campsites are streaming in from high-use wilderness areas of Manitoba provincial parks and northwestern Ontario Crown lands.
As per usual, the complaints chiefly involve unburied human waste and toilet paper and tampons discarded at popular canoe campsites in Manitoba's Whiteshell Provincial Park and Ontario's Experimental Lakes Area. But this year, there are also reports of off-putting conditions in more remote areas of Nopiming Provincial Park and islands in the heavily populated northern basin of Lake of the Woods.
While not every campsite in the region has been trashed, you're almost certain to encounter unsanitary conditions at a significant minority of canoe campsites along popular flatwater and whitewater routes by this point in the summer. Over the past year, I have personally batted about .200 in July and August, encountering disgusting scenes at one in every five campsites.
Obviously, some paddlers are messing up the wilderness for everyone else. And yes, these are in fact paddlers, as most of the areas in question are not accessible by cars or rarely frequented by motorboats.
The only way to combat this situation is to act like a parent of a child undergoing potty training and spread the word about the proper way to defecate. So without further ado, here are the first few things to consider before you deposit No. 2:
1. If there's a throne, use it.
At high-use campsites along the Mantario Trail and the Manigotagan River, you may find plastic throne-style outdoor toilets within stumbling distance of the main tenting area. These are essentially outhouses and must be used, regardless of any impulse to let loose wherever you like. These latrines exist to prevent the widespread dispersal of human waste around campsites that will almost certainly be visited by a large number of people over the course of a season.
2. In most cases, start digging.
When there's no outhouse -- and in most places, there is not -- you must dig a shallow hole for your waste, far from any trail, tenting area or water source. Leave No Trace Canada advises you walk 60 metres away, or about half the distance of a football field, and dig a cathole 15 to 20 centimetres deep. Bury your feces in this hole and cover it up with earth, rocks, twigs or whatever else is available. If you can see your handiwork, then you haven't done a good enough job obscuring it. In about a year, your waste will biodegrade below the surface.
3. Bury or burn your toilet paper.
Leave No Trace Canada maintains it's OK to bury toilet paper in your cathole. I prefer to burn it in a campfire, if and only if I'm having one. Obviously, do not attempt this while cooking meals. Also do not attempt this in the cathole itself.
4. Pack out used tampons.
Tampons don't break down in the environment and also cannot be burned easily. Bag them and toss them in your trash. Then carry that trash out of the woods.
5. Pack out everything in some areas.
In places where there's no soil or little biological activity, different rules apply. In high-use desert areas such as Grand Canyon National Park, hikers are handed small brown paper bags and instructed to carry out their waste along with their toilet paper. Plastic bags may also do the trick. Similar practices may also be required in the High Arctic or along river canyons.
6. And yes, this applies to you.
If you don't want to take the time to properly dispose of your waste in the wilderness, then you shouldn't be there. Be considerate to the people who will follow your behind.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 17, 2013 C10