I was hiking an alpine trail, surrounded by lush grass with wildflowers the color of the rainbow. Suddenly, I catch a glimpse of one of the only sights that could tarnish such a moment: an empty plastic water bottle! I thought to myself that another hiker must have also enjoyed this area previously, this beautiful area where the views go for miles, where the alpine flowers flow across the hillside with the wind and fill the air with their sweet aromas. I have a problem with this other hiker, because this person clearly didn’t see that the water bottle did not belong in this perfect scene. It was trash, meant to be packed out and not scattered among the wildflowers!
My job requires me to hike through uncharted territory, places I thought I would never find trash, and yet somehow I do! When I look around to view the inexplicable beauty of these mountains, I sadden to see wrappers from granola bars, ketchup packets, plastic water bottles, apple cores, and orange rinds.
Feces, pet and human, are the worst sort of trash to find. Nature calls to everyone and in all forms, and when it happens to us in the wilderness there are a set of protocols to follow. Even biodegradable bags or toilet paper must be packed-out at high altitudes. Thankfully, wag bags exist to help us take care of our waste in a sanitary and environmentally friendly manner. For those that do not know what a wag-bag is, it’s a portable toilet kit that includes toilet paper, moist toilette, and a couple of Ziplock bags for containing the waste. Certain bags, such as those made by the company Cleanwaste, also have gelling agents to break-down the poo once it is in the bag. Some find the wag-bag a bit grotesque, as not everyone is comfortable with the idea of carrying around their own waste. However, it is crucial to understand that it is more sanitary to carry your waste to a proper disposal area in a sealed bag rather than to leave it lying around the woods where other people and animals are constantly walking through.
If you need to relieve yourself and you are without a wag bag, the next best alternative is to dig a hole 6-8 inches deep and bury the waste (not the toilet paper). Make sure to dig the hole at least 200 feet from water, trails and camps in order to prevent contamination of our natural resources.
If you love walking through alpine valleys of wildflowers without encountering trash and poop, as I do, then remember to Leave No Trace and pack it out!