Torres del Paine National Park in Chile is, for many people, the Patagonia they imagine when they close their eyes. The fang shaped spires of Los Torres, the deep rich blue of the glacial melt lakes, the shifting and unpredictable weather. Chilean Patagonia holds a special place on every outdoor enthusiast’s bucket list. However, in 2012 this outdoor mecca was burning, and badly. Why? Because some chap (allegedly) set alight toilet paper to dispose of it following a ‘wilderness turd.’ The result? 12,500 hectares of pristine Patagonian wilderness lost. It seems all of this could have been saved by proper education in the art of the ‘bush bog’. Introducing: how to Secretly Hide Increments of Turd.
It is clear that incidents such as this are not limited to a few itinerant travellers. Australian parents are failing to teach their children the art of the ‘scrub squat’. Whilst leading a Cub Scout camp a number of years ago, a young gentleman sheepishly ambled over to me, holding one hand suspiciously in a bulging pocket. Innocently this child asks, “We can’t throw rubbish down the long drop?” “No…” I reply, suspiciously. Gingerly, from his pocket he plucks several fistfuls of used toilet paper, “Then what do I do with this?”
Even worse than this, perhaps, was the unlucky individual who, having assumed an appropriate position, neglected to account for the position of their slacks. This had a rather unfortunate outcome.
These shocking incidents could be so easily avoided with some simple education. So how do you stop a simple trip into the woods with a roll ending in infamy?
Some locations require you to ‘pack out’ all waste; this means everything that goes in has to come out, one way or another. Some locations require only toilet paper to be packed out: check the guidelines for the area you are visiting and be respectful.
Don’t use this as an excuse to take Gastro-Stop for nine days straight as a friend of mine once did in Samoa, or the end result will be very painful. If you have to pack out, check out these odour-proof OpSak Barrier Bags and consider lining the bag with something opaque. Pre-package your loo roll into odour-proof bags with enough for individual missions.
Finding the perfect location is absolutely essential to a successful mission. First and most instinctively it must be out of sight (and smell) and at least 70 steps (60 odd metres) away from the trail or camp. Don’t be lazy with this; it may be tempting on a cold night to barely leave the tent. However, as a member of my party quickly discovered whilst trying to pee in the night out the back of his tent on the Inca trail, sometimes the ground isn’t as absorbent as you’d think – particularly when your tent is downhill from the stream. It is also essential to be aware of water sources, so make sure you are at least 70 steps away from these as well.
Finally, if a spot looks too good to be true, it may be, as a friend of mine discovered when he elected to utilise a nice patch of soft earth. ‘This will be easy to dig a hole in,’ he thought. The predictable outcome here is that someone had already visited the spot.
Using a trowel like our Sea to Summit Pocket Trowel, dig a hole around 10cm diameter and 15-20cm deep. This can be tricky in rocky terrain but is absolutely essential and worth the effort. Try using the heel of your boot to get the hole started. Alternatively move a rock, as softer soil may be found underneath.
This should be self-explanatory; however, evidence seems to point the contrary. To avoid disaster:
Pre-packaging your loo roll into portions makes life very easy as they can be stored waterproof and safe in the same little bags you intend to return them to after use. If this is your intent, mark bags as used so they are not confused with your clean loo roll bags. If you are allowed to leave loo roll then ensure it is all contained within the hole you dug. There is never any excuse to burn toilet paper.
Pack the dirt you dug out back into the hole; there should be no visible loo roll. Finally, place a rock or branch over the hole. This should help dissuade digging animals and stop other people trying to use the same spot.
I mean I shouldn’t have to include this but I’m going to. That’s right I’m talking to you. Sea to Summit make some excellent cleaning products and I suggest you make use of them.
Armed with the knowledge of how to Secretly Hide Increments of Turd, there is no reason to fear the ‘urge’ coming on mid-hike or to set alight one of the most amazing parks on the planet. Don’t be that guy. Remember to enjoy your experience in the wilderness and leave no trace, so others can enjoy it too.
Until our next adventure…