The first step in pooping in the outdoors is finding a good location. Site selection was discussed in-depth in Part 1. But to quickly refresh, high quality pooping spots will be:
- At least 200 feet away from water,
- Biologically rich, and
- Conducive to a cathole.
The next step is creating a hole. Notice my use of the word “create,” not “dig.” If you are willing to carry a five-pound pick mattock, you can dig a proper cat hole almost anywhere. An ice axe is quite effective, too, but on very few backpacking trips is one actually needed.
Backpackers must be prepared for scenarios besides wonderfully soft ground.
Soft ground is ideal, because it’s easy to dig a proper cathole six to inches deep, and because soft ground usually has more existing biological activity than hard-packed earth.
Sand or alluvial deposits are notable exceptions — the soils are soft but relatively sterile. If it’s the best you have, go with it. But a “shallow grave” in a sunny location is actually best in these locations. Biological activity won’t neutralize the poop, but the sun will.
Some backpackers carry a Deuce of Spades Potty Trowel or similar. To me, this seems like feel-good-about-myself gear. If the ground is soft enough for a 0.6-oz spade, it’s probably soft enough for a trekking pole tip or the back of a heel, too, especially if there are nearby loose materials with which the hole can be buried further, i.e. a four-inch hole plus two new inches of leaf cover = a textbook six inches.
Rolling a rock
In arid and rocky areas, soft ground may be impossible to find. And no ultralight trowel will break through hard sun-baked alpine tundra or a drought-stricken hardpan meadow.
In this scenario, the best strategy is to:
- Roll a rock;
- Poop in the hole, or poop nearby and relocate it (along with any TP) into the hole afterwards; and,
- Roll the rock back into place.
Unless I can hold it until reaching a lusher area, rolling a rock is a good option. But I’m not in love this this method:
- The soil underneath the rock normally seems light on biological activity.
- Insects or rodents often live underneath these rocks.
- In popular areas, there is a high risk of being surprised(!) by what’s already underneath the rock. If that rock looked good to you, it probably looked good to someone else, too.
Stomping a platform
In deep snowpack, it is not practical to bury poop in the ground. Instead, focus on the location: stay away from where water will pool or flow when the snow melts, and where other backcountry users will travel for the remainder of the winter and the spring.
In non-weight-bearing snow, I find it useful to stamp out a platform so that I can step out of my skis or snowshoes to do my business. Before I leave, I kick snow over my platform. The one-way tracks and buried platform should make it obvious to any other backcountry user that they should not go digging in this area.
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