Spring is full on—even here in the Rockies, the snow melting, wildflowers popping, bees buzzing—and it’s a gorgeous season to venture into the outback. Which means . . . hmmm . . . it’s also time to brush up on wilderness toilet skills. Maybe even engineer your first-ever backcountry squat?
Let me begin by talking to budding trekkers, which the rest of us were once and can easily slip right back to, if not in a literal physical sense, surely in vivid memory. This is a good thing! (As you’ll see.) So, here you are, a wild-country novice, having enjoyed day hikes and plunging now into an overnight. Unlike Bill Bryson’s school chum Katz in A Walk in the Woods, you’ve gotten in shape. Of course. Propped by the front door is your borrowed or brand new backpack, bulging and ready. And any minute, the friend who’s been cajoling—“I promise, you’ll love it!”—or badgering you—“Come on, don’t be a wimp.”—you into this adventure is scheduled to arrive. Indeed, you’ve spent the winter conjuring up maybe that gentle switchbacking mountain trail, that tranquil riverside camp, that towering red rock canyon, that night sky brilliant with stars. And yet, the larger picture, the one you can’t quite wrap your mind around because it dominates the whole frontal screen of your imagination—a non-vision really, more a freight train of panic—is that ol’ scrunching into the bushes with your pants pulled down. Disasters plague your thoughts. My balance is lousy. I could get stuck in this position. Deep-knee bends aren’t my forté. I could topple over, land in it. And the branch? The one they say to grab to steady yourself—what if it snaps? I could get gucky, get bitten, get stickery. Get SEEN.
Yeow! The dreary particulars look endless.
But, in fact, nowadays, with a little preparation and equipment and the support of a kindly coach, all can be overcome. The learning curve is no longer a hush-hushed, trial-and-error ordeal, the way it was when I began. Granted, there is a lot to learn in the way of “reading the landscape”—its terrain, water courses, and soil types. But roaming everywhere are empathetic experts. Plus, I’ll supply you right here with your first two hints—beyond the basics—for a superior, even revelatory, experience. Start by stepping off the trail, far enough from the flow of other hikers that you won’t be interrupted, won’t be tripped over. Then locate an inviting view, be it a panoramic vista or a close-in paradise. I find almost anything can suffice. Such items as spiny devil’s club or monotonous talus are fascinating when quietly studied.
Once you’re in position, the spiritual is close at hand. Nobody has settled in behind the lock, to read War and Peace. No one is banging on the door, “Hurry it up!” Rather, it’s peaceful. Enchantment is on the way. Mountaintops on the horizon suddenly come into focus. A bird warbles. A flower smiles. Allow your weary soul to sink into this spell of calmness away from modern frenzy. Heave a sigh. Unwind. Let the sun and the breeze tickle your bum. Meditate. It’s your spirit you want soaring—you’ve come for the view, the serenity, the communion with magnificence.
Now I want the ear of all old hands (notice, I’m not calling us old-timers), you, with the mastery and finesse, have your work cut out for you. I’m enlisting our gang to offer guidance and assistance to those just beginning. But first, a story.
Taking up the mantle of “savior to someone in otherwise dire-shitty-straights” brings to mind an episode imparted over a Guinness at our local Scottish pub. It issued forth from friend, neighbor, and adventure-guide-extraordinaire Skip Horner (Worldwide Adventures, Inc.), who has been leading creative, remote, and extreme adventures for decades. Were he not, at this moment, gliding over ice-cream snow to someplace like the North Pole, I’d be sure of my details. Yet I’m compelled to share the story here, if only from hazy memory, because Skip’s generosity and humanity brims with the inspiration we need.
One year, two mountaineering teams from different countries were making an ascent on a high, hairy, majestic peak somewhere in the Eastern Hemisphere. They were camped at an elevation riddled with ice crevasses, when a man on the other country’s team landed at the bottom of one of these yawning chasms, along with the sloshing contents of the communal potty, a rudimentary affair that had—until that second—been straddling the gap. His countrymen turned up their noses at the stink of hauling him out. It was Galahad Skip who tossed him the end of a beautiful climbing rope, and in so doing bolstered international relations beyond the dreams of any head-of-state.
OK mentors, here we go. You know the ropes of where and how to dig, when it’s best to pack-it-out. You’re painfully acquainted with how fast embarrassment descends. And fully aware of the importance of personal comfort, proper sanitation, and respecting Mother Earth. Super-schooled you are, in the know, and poised to guide. Now take a minute and scroll back over your outdoor life and supply us all with a teaser: Where’s the grandest place you’ve ever crapped?
Now take a minute and scroll back over your outdoor life and supply us all with a teaser: Where’s the grandest place you’ve ever crapped?
About Kathleen Meyer
KATHLEEN MEYER is the author of the international bestselling outdoor guide How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art that’s been widely embraced by the outdoor community, with more than 2.5 million copies sold in eight languages, and recently released in its fourth edition.Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the affiliate links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.