The first thing that comes to mind when we think of climbing is glamor.
Mountaineers are heroes: they are often forced to face extreme conditions while conquering the roughest parts of the planet. Pioneers, they spearheaded man’s triumph over nature, as Caspar David Friedrich’s famous painting shows us.
There’s also a less glamorous side to all this exploration.
Anyone who wonders about the merits of big wall climbing or mountain climbing will wonder:
“Hmm… how actually do climbers poop?”
We all know that. During a bivouac or portaledge suspended from a big wall, you get to experience many things, but sanitary comfort isn’t one of them.
The freezing cold makes defecating in the freezing cold a potentially life-threatening challenge when you’re at 25,000 feet altitude.
Here we explore the burning question few dare to ask, and even fewer dare to answer: How do climbers poop on big walls and at high altitudes like Mount Everest?
What’s the best way to poop on a big wall?
The first thing we need to do is a little digging into how climbers defecate.
When climbing on big walls, climbers store their redundancies in ‘poop tubes’ or sealable bags.
When climbing on big walls, climbers store their redundancies in ‘poop tubes’ or sealable bags. There are no climbers who crotch over their portaledges and let their waste fall.
As a result, the climbing area would become littered, making a mess of the wall. Particularly when climbing in popular locations, your falling poop could hit other climbers. Remember, don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to you!
Crag etiquette also prohibits leaving your poop in cracks on the wall. You may still include it in another line on the wall and gross out climbers following you if it is not part of your beta.
You’re bound to take a sealable bag or a poop tube with you if you’re climbing a big wall. You should choose the poop tubes because they are the most hygienic and durable of your two options.
On big walls, there’s another problem when you have to do a number two. Portaledges are only so big, and if you have a cover over them, you may want to avoid having your tent smell like them.
Therefore, keeping your climbing harness on while you poop over the edge of the bivouac and holding the poop tube or bag underneath you is the best way for you to do what you need to do. It’s good to know that climbing harnesses don’t have any parts that run straight down the middle, so you have plenty of room to poop without dirtying your gear. The poop tube can actually be attached to your climbing harness, so your hands are free to clean up once you’re done.
It’s a given that your climbing partner will always be nearby when you poop when you’re on big walls. However! When you’re putting your life in the hands of your belayer, you need to build a trust relationship anyway.
Is it possible to make my own poop tube?
A poop tube can be made by yourself, you know. It’s actually quite simple. The only thing you need is:
- You will need a tube (a PVC pipe is fine)
- Duck tape
- Two ribbons
- A harness system
You can make poop tube by following these steps:
Two ribbons should be looped together. So that you can clip them to your climbing harness and let the tube dangle below your butt, the loops should be a bit longer than the tube itself. Make sure you don’t make the loops too long, otherwise you’ll have to aim.
Your tube should now have looped ribbons at the bottom. You can tape them in place by guiding them along the tube’s sides.
It’s best to use a tube that can be opened from two sides if you want to make reusable poop tubes. Using this method, you can empty the poop tube on the other side of the one through which the poop enters.
You can clip the tube to your harness using carabiners as a harness system.
Tip: Fill the PVC pipe with litter box stuffing beforehand to capture some of the moisture and odor. If you add weight in this way, be careful not to overdo it.
How is the poop returned to the ground using rope?
In order to move stuff up and down, static ropes are used.
Using dynamic ropes, climbers can be secured. When it comes to making falls comfortable, they excel.
So if you want your poop to be brought down the mountain, you need static ropes.
How do climbers poop at high altitudes?
The short answer is: make it fast.
The poop buckets in Mount Everest’s camps one and two provide a relatively safe environment to do what needs to be done. They are brought down to the village where they are emptied by sherpas.
The luxury is gone once you reach higher altitudes, however. There aren’t any pre-existing toilets on less popular mountains, either. This leads to the lemma: act fast, or frostbite might take precious parts of the body.
There is climbing gear that provides a rear zipper for high altitudes. You can minimize the amount of skin exposed to the ice cold air when pooping by using the zipper. If you have a rear zipper, then you do not have to take off any clothing that would otherwise provide you with warmth in the freezing cold.
Leave no trace behind.
Climbers are increasingly aware of the environmental consequences of pooping on a mountain. Everybody knows that Mount Everest’s camps are filled with poo. The fecal matter is already found in the water coming from Mount Everest, making it a real health threat to local communities. Reports from climbers indicate that large swathes of snow are covered with brown dots. It is common for climbers to experience diarrhea when embarking on high altitude climbs. As you can imagine, picking up poo when this happens can be challenging. Therefore, most climbers use wag bags or poop tubes when they’re climbing snowy high altitude peaks.
There are climbers who prefer to put their waste inside their tents as they provide the most shelter. If the weather is bad and the elevation is high, you may even be forced to go to the bathroom inside the tent. Similarly, you could use the poop tube or wag bag mentioned earlier.
At high altitudes like Mount Everest, how do climbers pee?
It’s much easier to pee than to poop at high altitudes. You pee inside your tent, probably comfortably within your sleeping bag, and you pee in a sealed bottle. Many climbers prefer to pee from flexible bottles for extra comfort. You seal the bag tightly with a bottle opening, basically a plastic bag.