Leave No Trace -- Overkill?

7:04 p.m. on February 15, 2011 (EST)
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We the "Clued-in" are perhaps being 'punished' for the sins of the "Clueless".

We have all seen human feces, right on the TRAIL, (unless animals have taken up the habit of using toilet paper?) These same clueless people who crapped on the public trail never buried their crap, let alone their TP.

I went camping near a Forest Service road and we found that some 'human-shaped pigs' (who must have been there for a month or they had many people in their group) left their trash nicely bagged and stacked in their now deserted campsite. Nearby, behind EVERY tree or bush for an acre or two, were piles of unburied feces and the accompanying toilet paper. A Forest Service Officer came by to check on us, we pointed out the trash in the next campsite, then we helped her load the trash into her pick-up truck, it was filled-up.

We, the “Leave No Trace” Clued-In must now in many areas pack out our feces and toilet paper.

My question for the Forest Service people who are promoting the “Pack-It-Out” rules, because of the TP that they are complaining about that they have had to pick up, and the human feces that you have had to deal with, “Was it ever properly buried in the first place?”

Has there ever been a study to prove what percentage of properly buried feces and toilet paper that animals dig up, or that most of what is found was never buried? Are we certain that human feces and TP really bad for the environmental health of so-called delicate eco-systems? Could it be beneficial instead?

P.S. while I am on this rant, what about this, “urinating on a rock” idea? Last time I checked, it just runs off of the rock and onto the ground anyway, and causes much splashing right back on your legs and shoes. Why don’t we just give the rocks a break? We could just piss down our leg in the first place!

10:18 p.m. on February 15, 2011 (EST)
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David:

I feel your frustration but…

Regardless one may burry their TP and solid waste in one of the “approved” methods, there are many places where decomposition requires many years for these items to become fully composted.  For example, there is a trail crossing the Sierra Crest above Tom’s Place, passing through Mono Pass.  Most people stop at Fourth Recess Lake, which offers plenty of camp sites along a forested shore line and slopes.  This trail is not a freeway; I typically see only a half dozen groups camped along this lake on any day.  Nevertheless when one goes off into the trees for relief, virtually every spot that looks good for this purpose has evidence several other campers used that spot previously too.  In fact I commented during one trip that the USGS needs to re-evaluate the lake elevation, since the layer of TP in the soil surrounding the lake is so thick it certainly must have impacted the elevation.  This same trail also has a lake above tree line that is even more impacted.  This lake has limited relief sites – much of the area is barren rock – in addition to the issues arising due to its high sterile environment.

Thus The pack-it-out credo is necessary not only because of miscreant hikers, but because the ecology of many habitats is incapable of digesting the amount of human waste we leave behind, regardless how it is sequestered. 

Ed

8:11 a.m. on February 16, 2011 (EST)
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11:45 a.m. on February 16, 2011 (EST)
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“Was it ever properly buried in the first place?”

Perhaps they should start selling black plastic trowels with The North Face emblazoned on the handle; otherwise, people aren't going to take it up, it seems.

All toilet paper is not equal (chemical softeners, perfumes, parabens) and some people even use 'wipes' these days, so there would have to be some kind of educational programme or enforced regulation even if it was shown to be "beneficial instead" to have tons of shit and paper in the topsoil.

That is a really comprehensive shit article, Alicia, which I missed first time round.

4:56 p.m. on February 16, 2011 (EST)
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leaving trash behind, not burying feces, and not using at least biodegradable wipes is unacceptable.

 

However, having to take a dump in a baggie and then put it in your pack and carry it out is also unacceptable.

 

Burying it is sufficient in my mind. There are thousands of animals in any given area that are constantly crapping everywhere - their poop also contains bacteria and isn't good for you either.

 

Whomeworry - I agree there are certain places that require the unfortunate task of carrying your poop with you. Some are: above tree line, in delicate alpine areas where soil and plants can barely survive on their own let alone with people digging and crapping in it, and maybe there's some others.

5:17 p.m. on February 16, 2011 (EST)
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It is a little overkill. 

 

7:10 p.m. on February 16, 2011 (EST)
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Thanks for reposting the Article Alecia..I read 7.8 miilion backpackers a year hit the trails. The percentage must be high in alot of overused area's that this is negatively affecting. I think Worry Me and Iclimb with their vast experiance and others in Alpine climbing I take it that the extream to some is the norm? I know I read a book on a hike and the author was describing the latrine conditons and how he was thinking how it was negatively affecting the enviorment and experiance.  I did purchase a plastic trowel for my trekk this spring and reading the article has given me a better understanding of proper procedures. I did read that alot of LDH hikers use wipes and I personally think thats not good after reading the article..

8:03 p.m. on February 16, 2011 (EST)
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That is a really comprehensive shit article, Alicia, which I missed first time round.

I'll take that as a compliment!

I'll add that this article inspired many alternative headlines between me and Bobbi, the author.

8:06 p.m. on February 16, 2011 (EST)
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To Alicia: Yes I read that article way back when it first came out, and just got done reading it again. Thanks for pointing me in that direction.

Forgot to mention in the part about the 'human-shaped pigs' that some animals had gotten into the trash but the real-animals had not made much of a mess out of it ...yet.

12:24 a.m. on February 17, 2011 (EST)
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having to take a dump in a baggie and then put it in your pack and carry it out is also unacceptable.

Agreed.  Anyplace that requires me to do that probably is one which I won't get to see.  For example Mt. Whitney is such a location... I'd considered trying the lottery to go up there this year, but that issue alone (then there are the crowds) has convinced me to do something else instead.

9:04 a.m. on February 17, 2011 (EST)
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is it acceptable to clear out a "dumping" area do the deed burn the TP make sure it is out and bury any ash along with the dirty work?

9:35 a.m. on February 17, 2011 (EST)
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Agreed.  Anyplace that requires me to do that probably is one which I won't get to see.  For example Mt. Whitney...

It is exactly because of this problem (and simple wear and tear on the flora of too many camping) that lead to quotas in much of the Sierra.  Fortunately They have installed solar powered composting toilets at the traditional stopover midpoint of this hike, making packing out duty bags unnecessary, at least at this venue/location. 

But for those who consider "extreme" to pack out TP and (sometimes) waste, I feel compelled to add these policies aren’t overkill in some instances.  I have been hiking long enough to see “long term” impact we have on certain hiking venues.  What were once relatively pristine locations in my youth have suffered, with trees dying off from the soils and roots being trampled; soils and boulders blackened in campsites from generations of fire pits; terrain stripped of dead wood.  And yes, the soils near camp areas accumulating a soil layer of TP.  I have seen this build up over time; I would not believe it if someone told me about this phenomenon, except I have witnessed these affects first hand.  But as some mentioned it is local considerations that determine an environ’s tolerance to digest TP and human waste, hence whether or not “extreme” measure are necessary to conserve the habitat.

Ed

9:40 a.m. on February 17, 2011 (EST)
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is it acceptable to clear out a "dumping" area do the deed burn the TP make sure it is out and bury any ash along with the dirty work?

The problem with this solution is twofold:  Freshly soiled TP doesn't burn; and if your stance in amid pine straw, you risk burning down the forest. 

Come on folks this really isn't as gross as it seems!  Anyone who has changed diapers can attest good technique minimizes the icky aspects of this chore.

Ed

10:04 a.m. on February 17, 2011 (EST)
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just curious what you mean by "clear out an area?" If you mean digging a hole and burying it afterword, sure, as long as it is in an environment that supports it without lasting or permanent damage. If you mean just clearing off a spot on the ground, which is then left with the deposits uncovered, then no.

I completely understand the need to pack waste out of areas above tree line and in other environments that cannot support the decomposition of fecal matter. On the other hand, all of the areas that I frequently hike do not have this problem.

There are locations that I have visited many times over the years, some at around the 6000ft level, which can see harsh winter conditions from September through April. I have inspected multiple sites I have "used" in the past, out of curiosity, to see how well deposits have decomposed into the soil, and to see if animals have dug them up.  I have yet to find any tampering by animals at any of these locations.  Also, after digging the location up to investigate levels of decomp, I can attest that biodegradable toilet paper doesn't last very long. There were virtually no discernable visual traces of the paper remaining. As far as the fecal matter is concerned, that had been decomposed and absorbed into the soil completely. Multiple of these inspections took place within three months of the deposit.

Like I mentioned above, I fully understand the need, both ecologically and aesthetically, to practice waste carry-out in certain ecological, climactic, or high use conditions. My personal investigation reveals that such practice is neither practical or necessary in all areas.

12:40 p.m. on February 17, 2011 (EST)
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in the White Mountains, which are admittedly a little closer to civilization than some other places, we have a mix of flush toilets in a few places (summer only), outhouses, and composting toilets.  for the most part, this 'network' deals with the waste issue pretty well, provided you know where they are. 

i'm a firm believer in leaving no trace and have often camped in unmarked areas in the white mountains and adirondacks.  on more than one occasion, have had rangers come through our 'campsite' and remark we had done a great job keeping our debris to ourself.  in those situations where there is no other option except burial, it's worth taking the time and effort to really bury it. 

  http://www.randolphmountainclub.org/sheltersinfo/compostingtoilets.html

http://www.outdoors.org/lodging/green-promise.cfm

1:35 p.m. on February 17, 2011 (EST)
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...where there is no other option except burial, it's worth taking the time and effort to really bury it. 

I wholeheartedly agree. My goal is that when I leave a deposit site, no one should be able to tell that I had left anything at all, and shouldn't be much of an atractant to animals either.  

To quote Gandalf "Keep it secret! Keep it safe!" ;)

6:21 p.m. on February 17, 2011 (EST)
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Another option is to just hold it in. Eating too many mixed nuts can help with that.

Seriously though, the southeast where I hike has a fairly high turnover rate, as Gonzan says, not all areas are the same.

I can find an appropriate spot & dig a suitable hole in less than a minute, maybe faster if I'm highly motivated.

9:57 p.m. on February 17, 2011 (EST)
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Fortunately They have installed solar powered composting toilets at the traditional stopover midpoint of this hike, making packing out duty bags unnecessary, at least at this venue/location. 

So sorry to inform you that the Forest Service has removed this fine facility from the Mount Whitney trail, they got tired of hauling out the "dry remains".

Now we have to haul it out "fresh" ourselves.

10:27 p.m. on February 17, 2011 (EST)
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Agreed.  Anyplace that requires me to do that probably is one which I won't get to see.  For example Mt. Whitney...

[...]

But for those who consider "extreme" to pack out TP and (sometimes) waste, I feel compelled to add these policies aren’t overkill in some instances.

Actually, to clarify, I didn't mean to say carrying out used TP is extreme.  I find it unpleasant and prefer not to do it, but have done it.  But carrying out the rest is something I'd prefer to avoid.

I guess, thinking about it more, if a place is so heavily used that it's come to that, then it's probably not someplace I'd find enjoyable to visit anyway.

 

1:40 p.m. on February 18, 2011 (EST)
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I carry a sturdy stainless steel trowel, use "best practices", and believe that is good enough for my adventures. I assure you that as a fellow TrailSpacer, you would never know that I had been there. 

What is needed is a safe, packable powder containing "good" bacteria or other decomposers that can be sprinkled on the feces prior to burial to promote more rapid breakdown. Of course considerations would include possible impact of the bacteria relative to native natural decomposers in the area, the possible dangers to other animals / the environs if the powder were not properly used, and possible impact of using non-biodegradable TP.

Any biochemists / agricultural scientists out there with an idea?

11:13 p.m. on February 18, 2011 (EST)
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What is needed is a safe, packable powder containing "good" bacteria or other decomposers that can be sprinkled on the feces prior to burial to promote more rapid breakdown...

The problem in these fragile areas is they are typically very dry or cold, causing waste to desiccate quicker than bacteria can do their thing. Once mummified waste takes a very long time to decompose, since only brief periods of the year is it both warm and moist enough for bacteria to make headway digesting poop.  But the article Alicia references (above) does describe commercially available kits for packing human waste out.

Ed

11:43 p.m. on February 18, 2011 (EST)
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I wholeheartedly agree. My goal is that when I leave a deposit site, no one should be able to tell that I had left anything at all, and shouldn't be much of an atractant to animals either.  

To quote Gandalf "Keep it secret! Keep it safe!" ;)

 I for one must relieve myself daily when active and hiking. Not all of my hiking partners feel the same.

Burning TP has caused some serious fires in this country. DON'T BURN.

11:52 p.m. on February 18, 2011 (EST)
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 I have inspected multiple sites I have "used" in the past, out of curiosity, to see how well deposits have decomposed into the soil, and to see if animals have dug them up. 

 Wow, what a dedicated outdoor person you are.  On occasion I have wondered what kind of footprint I was leaving when I took a pit stop.  I have always buried and covered with the thought that no person or animal should ever see this.

In one LNT class, when asked how deep was deep enough to bury, the answer was to cover it as if you were going to do a head stand over it.  Just  a thought.

8:30 a.m. on February 19, 2011 (EST)
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I have inspected multiple sites I have "used" in the past, out of curiosity, to see how well deposits have decomposed into the soil, and to see if animals have dug them up.  I have yet to find any tampering by animals at any of these locations.  Also, after digging the location up to investigate levels of decomp, I can attest that biodegradable toilet paper doesn't last very long. There were virtually no discernable visual traces of the paper remaining. As far as the fecal matter is concerned, that had been decomposed and absorbed into the soil completely. Multiple of these inspections took place within three months of the deposit.

Well, that is a pretty interesting idea there...I guess I would have never thought up "gravedigging" any of my old poo' sites to investgate the effects.

It's not so much that it is gross to carry out, but to do so we are putting the waste in plastic bags typically, which are going to be around a good deal longer than some poo and TP, IMO.

11:06 p.m. on February 21, 2011 (EST)
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toilet paper is not equal (chemical softeners, perfumes, parabens)

OK that's very nice! Good to hear that there is a PROPER kind of TP to use in the back country... especially if you are going to bury it!

Any ideas of what Brand names are out there that qualify?

8:41 a.m. on February 22, 2011 (EST)
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I just pick up the biodegradable ones that are little rolls at walmart or wherever I see them on the cheap. They usually don't have a cardboard core roll, so they are small and fit in a "snack" size ziplock perfectly.  It might be a little more expensive than regular TP but not by much, and the compact configuration and faster decomp make it completely worth it. 

8:47 a.m. on February 22, 2011 (EST)
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 I have inspected multiple sites I have "used" in the past, out of curiosity, to see how well deposits have decomposed into the soil, and to see if animals have dug them up. 

 Wow, what a dedicated outdoor person you are.  On occasion I have wondered what kind of footprint I was leaving when I took a pit stop.  I have always buried and covered with the thought that no person or animal should ever see this.

 Haha! I kinda intend for noone and nothing to see it ever again as well :)

Going back to "investigate" was probably motivated less by the dedication of an latent inner ecco warrior, and more by a strange curiostiy for how quickly it was assimilated into the soil, whether animals went after it, etc.

12:29 p.m. on February 22, 2011 (EST)
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This is one of the, if not THE, oldest recurring topics on Trailspace. On Day 1 of Trailspace going live (March 15, 2001), hikergirl (apparently not posting anymore, at least not under that name) started this thread about toilet paper. Many of the same comments about plastic bags (bought, retrieved from the newspaper wrapping, doggy poop bags, etc), burial, burning toilet paper, etc are in that thread.

One thing that has not been explicitly mentioned in this go-around is that the basic rule on burial is to bury your droppings in biologically active soil. Sandy soil is not active, nor is snow, which means the feces will not decompose in such burial sites. In such locations, carrying your waste out is the only choice (unless you prefer to leave your "mark" permanently preserved). With all the ways to seal up and sterilize human waste, home-made and commercially available, there is no excuse not to do so. People pick up their pets' poop all the time.

3:57 p.m. on March 17, 2011 (EDT)
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Just went for a very short hike in the hills behind Oakland, Ca,  Very disappointing to see trash lying just off the trail in numerous places.  It would really be nice if people could manage to take back with them the food bar wrappers, plastic bottle cap lock rings, crisps packets, etc. We should not have to pick up after them, even though some do.  It would be much better to see that bright colorful thing just off the path and realize it is a flower rather than again some more trash.

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