One question that I get asked by people about Backcountry trail crews is “Where do you go to the bathroom?”
Well, when we’re on the trail, we hike off the trail and find a private tree. And then the follow up question comes: “What about…well…number two?”
O.K., here’s the secret. We really do have a bathroom in camp. No, it’s not one of the one-person Blue Rooms you see at construction sites or outdoors events around the country. It’s a big pit dug into the ground that in polite company is called a ‘latrine’, but trail crews call ‘the shitter’. (I don’t think trail crews have ever been accused of being ‘polite company’!)
The latrine is located far enough outside of camp that I thought they would invoke the ‘two person minimum’ rule for hiking out to it. It is a deep but narrow pit dug into the ground. The length depends upon available room. When the pit is finished, a log round is placed flat side down on each end, then two sturdy branches are laid across the pit and are secured to the rounds. Finally, for added comfort, at least two toilet seats are laid across the sturdy branches and secured. Viola! You have a latrine! (Don’t worry. At the end of the season, as part of breaking camp down, the latrine will be covered over by all of the dirt that was removed.)
The latrine rules are pretty simple. Some sort of ‘occupied’ signal is worked out. Toilet paper is kept on a round in easy reach of each seat. The rolls are kept under metal coffee cans to protect the paper from the elements.
O.K., I can hear the groans out there now about the very thought of all that…waste…dropping into and accumulating in an open air hole in the ground. What about odor? What about flies? Oh…the hygiene nightmare, right?
Give us some credit. We had a solution for all of that…odor, flies, and hygiene. It came in the form of a white powder called ‘slaked lime’, or calcium hydroxide. The lime looked like talcum powder, and it came in the same type of plastic shaker can you would recognize from your regular household baby powder. Application was simple. After you finished with your ‘business’, you took the lime and sprinkled it into the pit to cover the new material. You wanted enough to cover the odor, but you didn’t want to use too much. You did not want to run out of lime! How much was enough? You sprinkled until it looked like the same amount of coverage you would see on a powdered doughnut.