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beginner's questions on backcountry pooping

Backpacking and camping basics and other general trip planning discussion for the uninitiated. Use this forum to learn where to look for the information you need, and to ask questions, related to the beginner basics of backpacking and camping, including technique and best practices.
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Re: beginner's questions on backcountry pooping

Postby rcymbala » Thu Jun 06, 2013 2:34 pm

WELL, WELL, WELL... this is interesting... I just finished a post to a different (june 2013) thread that talks about a doctor named Ken Murray who spoke at Adventure 16 and referred to a scholarly paper that found that if the brown stuff is left on a rock under the sun for 2 days, it becomes biologically dead and no longer a risk for contaminating the water. I find it ethical to protect other people from my **** by leaving it out to dry (not under a rock) in a place where it would be impossible for any other living (human) being to see it by accident. That handles the mess that leaves one's body. Then there's the mess that gets stuck to oneself on the way out. I don't take TP, ever. It spoils my enjoyment of the great outdoors and it adds complexity (the more I keep it simple, not lighter, just simpler, the more I am able to cover vast amounts of off-trail territory, like hammock not tent, it is a psychological thing). There's ONE very important item missing from the snow, sticks, leaves, pinecones list (by Bill Morell on Sat May 28, 2011 7:37 am): DIRT !!!!! Get huge handfulls of dirt and just keep bombarding your bottom with clean, dry, talc-like DIRT. With practice, your fingers will never get sticky brown (I use a stick or some leaves first, though). The cleaner and DRIER you get, the more you can rub it in, until you are very clean. But as the day wears on, it gets a little irritated and itchy down there, so when I get to water, I use water for a clean finish and to remove any leftover dirt.

Here's where it gets interesting: after doing this for a while, I realized that in the beginning, I was hesitant to use this method because my potty training had taught me that what happens down there is "dirty". There was a mental disconnect between mind (feelings) and body (brown stuff). This method cleared up that learned disconnect. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT: If you have some sort of mental disconnect between mind and body, and you cannot feel all parts of your body all the time everywhere in the backcountry, YOU RUN A GREATER RISK OF INJURY and DEATH. Your mind must "known" how all parts of your body are feeling. Unfortunately, many (like me) were raised sort of numb (in particular, in families where parents were addicted, like booze). This method can shock one's mind into greater awareness of one's ENTIRE skin and bones body. ***
PO Box 150 Topanga CA 90290



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Re: beginner's questions on backcountry pooping

Postby GreenhornBackpacker » Thu Jun 06, 2013 6:13 pm

Too bad the NPS and the forest service don't make the wranglers follow a 'leave no trace' wilderness ethic. Is mule poop somehow more sanitary and less damaging to the environment than human poop?
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Re: beginner's questions on backcountry pooping

Postby larroyo33 » Thu Jun 06, 2013 6:25 pm

Ha, deja vu. I remember reading this thread back when I first started backpacking last year and I was doing internet research to learn the ropes. I found this thread to be very helpful and informative.

Greenhorn, I was just about to write about the same thing. Is there some legitimate reason why human and dog poop is strictly regulated, but horse and mule poop have no rules? I remember my first trip to Yosemite Valley, I was so amazed by the scenery I could not wait to hit the trail. I started doing some short hikes and thought to myself "Man, this is beautiful, but I wish I did not have to avoid stepping in horse poo every 50 ft."
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Re: beginner's questions on backcountry pooping

Postby Tom_H » Fri Jun 07, 2013 8:17 pm

larroyo33 wrote: Is there some legitimate reason why human and dog poop is strictly regulated, but horse and mule poop have no rules?


I loved field biology and in one class we had to learn to identify animals through many methods, one of which was examination of their droppings. This may not be related to the "why" of the rules, however hominids and canines (usually) are omnivores while equines are herbivores. Horses and mules mainly eat grass and if you examine their scat you will notice that the texture is not all that much changed. The fibrous structure of the grass is not really very much digested and not much nutrient is drawn from it. Dogs and humans on the other hand are usually fed an unhealthy diet of processed food, from which much nutrient (a lot of which is not so healthy) is drawn. (As predators, we tend to have digestive systems that are pretty efficient in extracting nutrients.) The scat tends to be less fibrous, highly digested, compacted, and contains numerous strains of bacteria, including Escherichia coli. This bacteria keeps us alive by giving us Vitamin K2 while we give it a home as well as food. We have a number of strains within us, most of which are relatively harmless as long as they remain where they belong. Human babies are born without this necessary symbiotic organism, but it always appears within their large intestines within 40 hours of birth, passed there from the hands of the adults who feed them. No matter how much we wash our hands, we will soon have some of it back on them very shortly. Most strains are not harmful, some are even used as probiotics, but a few can be pathogenic. One person may carry a pathogenic strain and not be affected by it, while another person may become very ill if (s)he becomes infected by that same strain. Other animals carry different strains of E. coli than we do, while some of them carry related strains of cholera and salmonella bacteria. Some of these are pathogenic to us, while some are not. The pathogenic ones, however, can be deadly. Most strains of E. coli do not survive very long if exposed to sun and oxygen, but a few actually can.

The truth is that unless you sterilize your hands, utensils, and food, etc. to an extreme degree, you are going to introduce a few E. coli into your mouth every time you take a bite of food. Most of it is harmless and identical to what's already in your gut. If the stuff enters one's body through a different opening, however, that person can become quite ill. (A woman must wipe forward to back.) If a very very few of a pathogenic strain enter through the mouth, it is likely the immune system and stomach acids may be able to kill it. A higher number of pathogenic bacteria will likely cause an infection.

The droppings of mice, rats, and certain birds and reptiles can be quite deadly to humans. If you find mouse droppings, it is best to vacuum them up, wipe with a disinfectant, and dispose of the wipe. It's also dangerous to breathe the dust of such droppings if doing something like cleaning out your attic and overturning boxes.

Equine digestive tract flora tend not to be too dangerous to humans. What's in the organic fertilizer you buy at the hardware or feed store? Horse manure of course; you fertilize your garden with it. In fact, the regular white mushrooms you buy in the grocery store, Agaricus bispora, are mostly grown solely in that stuff. Ever see the little brown flecs on the bulk mushrooms at the market? Guess what that is? But it's dried out and pretty harmless. The stuff on the trail isn't going to cause a pandemic or an epidemic. It dries out and the bacteria die quickly. The biggest problem would be if the stock animals dumped right in a stream and then a human drank untreated water from nearby. The other animals aren't going to be much affected by it. If we happen to get a lot of it in our systems, however, we might get diarrhea because we have very sensitive digestive systems. Once our ancestors began to cook their food, we didn't need to have the more resilient digestive systems they had and we pretty much became pansies in terms of the microbes we can handle in our gut in contrast to other animals. Most of them are not too much affected by Giardia lamblia, but Giardiasis isn't fun for most of us.

So, I don't know to what extent the rule makers considered the microbiology of all this. But the truth is, the equine waste doesn't pose too much threat, and the human/dog doesn't either IF some common sense is used. There are those overused places, however, where the sheer volume of the stuff draws innumerate insects that can transmit all kinds of disease. From the Eagle Falls trailhead at Emerald Bay, ascending the trail above Eagle Lake is one flat to the right of the trail. The soil is duff and almost every square inch has waste and white flecks coming out of the ground. The place is disgusting. The next flat up the trail is bigger and mostly slab granite. The only place to go is in the talus field beyond the flat, but oxygen can get between the pieces of scree and dehydration, decomposition, and death of any pathogens can occur much faster. A lot of people prefer to go in a talus field because the paper can be burned and the remains dehydrate quickly, killing the bacteria. It's true that chipmunks can get to it, but all in all, talus may be one of the best locations to choose.

A side note: freeze dried food is an unhealthy, but usually necessary staple in the pursuit of this passion of ours. There is almost no fiber in it at all. The pastas provide calories for trail energy, but though their fiber is greatly weakened, it's good to include veggies as well. Fiberless food leads to compaction and abnormal colon function. Supplementing meals with large doses of wheat bran can greatly assist digestive health and make the subject of this thread much easier.

On a second and more serious side note, humans eat a lot of unnatural stuff. Grilling food until charred produces a class of chemicals called nitrosamines. These and many other unnatural chemicals in our food damage the DNA in the cells of the large intestine and cause colorectal cancers. It is wise to consult your physician about regular stool tests, sigmoidoscopies, and colonoscopies, based on age and lifestyle. Cancer is an excruciating killer of our species.
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Re: beginner's questions on backcountry pooping

Postby larroyo33 » Fri Jun 07, 2013 9:40 pm

Tom, thanks for response and all the great info.
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Re: beginner's questions on backcountry pooping

Postby Shawn » Fri Jun 07, 2013 10:51 pm

Tom -

X2 the thanks; very educational information and facts.

Shawn
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Re: beginner's questions on backcountry pooping

Postby The Other Tom » Sat Jun 08, 2013 3:42 am

Tom
X3
Very good info and written so a layman can understand.
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Re: beginner's questions on backcountry pooping

Postby lensman137 » Sun Jun 09, 2013 12:06 pm

Find a spot well away from any campsite, trail, or running or standing water source, and drop it right on the ground like a bear or a deer does. Within days, it'll essentially be biologically inert. Within a week it'll usually be gone. I know this for a fact because I've done trips where I was out for over a week, and just out of curiosity, have gone back to check on it on the way out, and couldn't even find a trace. Take the TP with you and burn it in any existing fire ring. And if you can't safely burn a little pile of dried out TP without a fire ring, then you should reconsider going out there in the first place. That's what I've been doing for 40 plus years.
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Re: beginner's questions on backcountry pooping

Postby Tom_H » Sun Jun 09, 2013 2:44 pm

lensman137 wrote:Find a spot well away from any campsite, trail, or running or standing water source, and drop it right on the ground like a bear or a deer does. Within days, it'll essentially be biologically inert. Within a week it'll usually be gone. I know this for a fact because I've done trips where I was out for over a week, and just out of curiosity, have gone back to check on it on the way out, and couldn't even find a trace. Take the TP with you and burn it in any existing fire ring. And if you can't safely burn a little pile of dried out TP without a fire ring, then you should reconsider going out there in the first place. That's what I've been doing for 40 plus years.


In all probability it did not biodegrade in a week. Some mammal likely ate it and very possibly became ill consuming a very high volume of microorganisms that are not part of its normal ecosystem. The reason 6 inches is a preferable depth is that mammals (mainly rodents) are less likely to find it while ants, beetles, and fungi can still get to it and decompose it. If you go too deep, insects and fungi can't find it nor can oxygen get to it to make it oxidize, so it just stays there. Too shallow and bigger animals will smell it, dig it up, eat it and otherwise contaminate the surface.
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Re: beginner's questions on backcountry pooping

Postby gdurkee » Sun Jun 09, 2013 11:40 pm

Hmmmm. Way, way, way too much information here. Remind me not to shake hands with rcymbala. One of the great things that separates us from the non-stop intestinal disease of much of the less developed world is simple hand washing and soap.

Horses an mules: I don't buy off on the harmless grass in meadows and trails argument. We're talking tons nitrates, nitrites, and other byproducts washing off into streams and wetlands. There's no question they also carry pathogens such as camplobactor and giardia. Sure, horse manure is in a lot of fertilizer, but it's treated to high heat first, which kills most of the pathogens.

There is no logical reason that horse manure in backcountry should be less regulated than human. No one has ever tried (except around urban areas and reservoirs). I think the feeling of too many managers is as Tom represents the impact. Increasingly, research is showing it's a potentially major impact that is seriously understudied and underestimated.

And let us totally, um, dump this idea of crapping on a rock or in the open and let it dry out. Sure, if you're the only one around that's probably fine. But when 1,000 people a week are coming through Rae Lakes or another popular area that just gets gross and disgusting (and often pretty close to what's happening already. Just think back to Guitar Lake before Wag Bags).

Finally, the problem with burning toilet paper outside of a hot campfire (that is, burning it after taking a dump) is that we get dozens of toilet paper fires each year from people doing just that. Most people don't do a good job of putting it out, it creeps around for a day, then ignites long after the person is gone.

g.
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Re: beginner's questions on backcountry pooping

Postby Scouter9 » Mon Jun 10, 2013 8:42 am

Well, I can't bring myself to do the smear thing in the back country, but I promise to start using it at every gas station on the 395, in the interest of science.
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Re: beginner's questions on backcountry pooping

Postby lensman137 » Mon Jun 10, 2013 2:46 pm

Tom H and gdurkee raise good points about not burying it. I used to bury it, but read a number of things about how it quickly biodegrades on the surface. But in hindsight, I often wondered how it could simply disappear so quickly. In the future I will resume burying it six to eight inches. Anyone who's had a dog knows that they'll eat ****. As far as burning the TP goes, I ALWAYS thoroughly douse it with water and make sure with my precious little fingers that it's completely out. Point duly noted.
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