September 05, 2007

wag the bag

All those fantastic words you miss out on if you're not a hiker....
No More Privies, So Hikers Add a Carry-Along

The highest outhouse in the continental United States is no more.

High-altitude sanitation is too hazardous a business. Helicopters must make regular journeys up the steep-walled canyons in tricky winds while rangers in hazmat suits wait below to tie 250-pound bags or barrels of waste onto a long line dangling below the aircraft.

So from the granite immensity of Mount Whitney in California to Mount Rainier in Washington to Zion National Park in Utah, a new wilderness ethic is beginning to take hold: You can take it with you. In fact, you must.

The privy, which sat about 14,494 feet above sea level, and two other outhouses here in the Inyo National Forest — the last on the trail — have been removed within the last year. The 19,000 or so hikers who pick up Forest Service permits each year to hike the Whitney Trail are given double-sealed sanitation kits and told how to use them — just as they are told how to keep their food from the bears along the way, and how to find shelter when lightning storms rake the ridges.

The kits — the most popular model is known as a Wagbag — are becoming a fixture of camping gear. On high western trails, Wagbag is now as familiar a term as gorp (a high-energy mix of nuts, seeds, dry fruit and chocolate) or switchback (a hairpin turn in the trail).

“It’s one thing to take a risk to fly up there to pick up a sick or injured person,” said Brian Spitek, a forest ranger who works in the Inyo National Forest. “To do it to fly out a bag of poop is another.”

Can't argue with that. Oh, and in case you're wondering: WAG stands for Waste Alleviation and Gelling and it the bags h ave also been adopted by FEMA and the Pentagon.

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