It’s a perfect day: the sun is shining and you’re going climbing with some friends. You arrive at the foot of the wall, unpack your things and get climbing. It’s your turn to belay first, which isn’t too bad because the sun is so beautiful and a bumblebee is flying around entertaining you as your friends tell stories; life is beautiful. Then suddenly the wind turns and you think Hm, that’s not wildflowers that I can smell.
At some point during the morning, you feel a twinge in your bladder. You run a few metres into the forest and behind the next bush hides a frightening sight – it’s a minefield! White ‘flags’ lined up in rows warn against continuing along this path. You realise where that smell was coming from. Going any further is not an option.
The more people climbing, the greater the problem of what they leave behind. But while it’s relatively easy to dispose of cigarette butts, bottles, paper waste and other rubbish, and these kinds of things will often be picked up by kind passers by, getting rid of poo is a little… harder. Yet this waste is more problematic; not only does it look and smell bad, it can also become a real threat to the environment as well as human and animal health.
“It’s completely natural and will decay, so why clean it up?” This is true, but few people realise that it takes a long time for these things to decay. Tissue, for example, takes about three months. Excrement doesn’t take so long, but will still be lingering after about two weeks.
Let’s do a simple calculation. We are at a beautiful climbing wall. Every weekend, about 100 people come here to climb. If everyone left their business, that would be 100 dumps and 100 tissues. As these dumps take a long time to disappear, that’s 400 dumps a month. Just think about how the forest will look and smell after one season. Admittedly, unbleached toilet paper decays faster, but even that takes a few weeks and it doesn’t look nice.
Tissues are also questionable from a sustainability standpoint because of the manufacturing process. A lot of water, energy and wood is used in their manufacturing. In addition, dangerous substances are discharged into water bodies through chemical treatments.
The unhealthy business…
Actually, there is not much negative to discover about excrement, stool or faeces – apart from the fact it’s just gross. In the ecosystem, faeces play an important role, for instance as fertiliser or as food for fungi and mites. The scarab beetle even uses excrement to reproduce by laying its eggs in it.
However – and this is where it becomes problematic – excrement can also transport a lot of nasty substances. Simply put, it contains everything that our body either cannot digest or simply wants to get rid of very quickly. Therefore, countless bacteria, viruses, bacilli, parasites and other unpleasant things can be found in faeces. It becomes particularly unpleasant when pathogens travel and enter areas where they are not actually native.
But animals do it?
Yes, animals also poop in the woods, but that’s not a reason we should; the comparison is flawed. Animals also transport pathogens in their faeces, so water from streams near grazing fields should not be drunk unless it’s been filtered.
And, animals usually spread their excrement over large areas. A deer has the whole forest at its disposal, while climbers are usually limited to a few square metres near the wall.
And, animal waste can also be pretty nasty. Many farmers have to deal with dog poo which contaminates their hay.
So, what should you do?
- Use suitable facilities: take some time after a good breakfast to do your business in the comfort of your own home. If you’re not ready at that point, maybe you can stop at a service station on the way. Some areas have even installed toilet facilities. Granted, they may not have the most pleasant odour, but it’s for a good cause.
- Distance matters: going a couple of metres further into the woods has never hurt anyone – except maybe in bad horror movies. Stay away from the nearest water and any favourite bushes. If you are above a body of water, you should take extra care to ensure sufficient distance between yourself and the water. When it next rains, your waste will be washed in and travel along the whole water course. And nobody wants that.
- Burying: Dig a deep hole (30 cm) and do your business in there. Digging a hole has many benefits. The poo decomposes much faster, animals cannot dig it up so quickly, the rain does not wash it away and it spares others from seeing and smelling it – and stepping in it. But what should you dig with? Approach shoes have pretty hard soles, sticks can be helpful, or if you know you will be digging for a long time, you can get shovels for that purpose.
- If you can’t bury it: sometimes the ground is too hard and too dry to dig a deep enough hole. In that case, you’ll have to take it with you. You’ll need a bag (plastic is recommended) and the aforementioned shovel. Wrap the bag around the shovel, pick it up and then roll the bag back so it encases everything. The mine is wrapped up. When you next reach civilisation, you can dispose of it. If you’re away for a longer time, we recommended bringing an extra box to store the waste.
I know it’s not particularly appetising, but, hey, it’s natural and you should be able to do it if you’re tough enough to take on this kind of adventure.