Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mind your business out in the wilderness

If you have to go, make sure you clean up after

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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

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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