Dirtbag Dis­patches

Intestinal Misadventures of the Ver­ti­cal World

Adventure - - Dirtbag Dispatches - By Derek Cheng

One mo­ment, I was sit­ting on a rock ledge, 30m off the ground, over­look­ing the most per­fectly turquoise of oceans. Serene and bliss­ful as the Dalai Lama get­ting a shoul­der rub in a hot spring. The next, I was plunged into the depths of a hor­ror I wouldn’t wish on my worst en­emy.

Bath­room dis­as­ters can pounce at any mo­ment, even half­way up a gi­ant rock face. Of all the lo­gis­tics to con­sider when tack­ling a long climb - one that could take hours, or even days - the one burn­ing ques­tion for most non-climbers is: “How do you go to the bath­room?” It’s a le­git ques­tion. Ver­ti­cal camp­ing of­fers many chal­lenges, from what light­weight food to bring to what gear to have in case you get stormed on. Deal­ing with #2s is no less im­por­tant.

The sim­plest method is the mud-fal­con. The mud is your busi­ness and the fal­con is the flat dis­cus of rock on which you de­posit your busi­ness. A com­fort­able ledge for squat­ting and an abun­dance of large, flat rocks is help­ful. The fal­con is then hurled into the great be­yond. It must be a smooth ac­tion. It is most un­sat­is­fac­tory to launch the fal­con with such force that your busi­ness promptly dis­mounts, and lands on your foot.

This is a com­mon bath­room so­lu­tion in re­mote moun­tain ranges, where you and your climb­ing part­ner are hope­fully the only peo­ple in a five kilo­me­tre ra­dius. But it’s not an op­tion if there are climbers crawl­ing all over the wall and along its base.

Is there a more un­pleas­ant way to go than be­ing taken out by a fly­ing disc of poop? The Nose, the most fa­mous line up the 900m mono­lith of El Cap­i­tan in Yosemite Val­ley, Cal­i­for­nia, is usu­ally so clogged with climbers that a mud-fal­con would stand a de­cent chance of hu­mil­i­at­ing - or even de­cap­i­tat­ing - some poor, un­sus­pect­ing vic­tim be­low.

A wag bag and poop-tube are now deemed es­sen­tial El Cap items. The bag is re-seal­able heavy-duty plas­tic, with a large mouth and a dry­ing agent in­side. Once filled - check your aim! - the bag is de­posited into a sturdy re­cep­ta­cle, known as the tube. Twist-top buck­ets work well. The tube sits un­der the haul bag, which shields it from po­ten­tial rips or tears as the bag and tube are heaved up the mas­sive face.

A porta-ledge -a climbers' sleep­ing plat­form that can be sus­pended from the side of a cliff - of­fers the unique chal­lenge of try­ing to stay steady on some­thing that wob­bles with any sub­tle shift in weight. It’s un­sur­pris­ing, given that a porta-ledge is a sheet of polyester, at­tached to sev­eral poles and pieces of web­bing that an­chor it to the rock wall. It is made of thin, light ma­te­rial, which seems flimsy and al­most laugh­able, but is tested to hold the weight of three thou­sand hip­popota­muses.

For #2s, you would nor­mally tether your­self to the main an­chor and lean your bare but­tocks out over the edge of the porta-ledge, with the wag bag po­si­tioned di­rectly be­low your poop-shute. If the ver­tigo is all a bit much, you can opt to squat more com­fort­ably in the mid­dle. But you must then be­come a poop-ninja, ne­go­ti­at­ing the mouth of the wag bag as it seems to shrink, while not dis­turb­ing a highly volatile plat­form that could up­end your bag. Don't miss. Don't spill. And don't pee on the porta-ledge.

Things don’t al­ways go ac­cord­ing to plan, of course. In the Lone Peak Cirque, Utah, a pris­tine gran­ite won­der­land where vis­i­tors pack it out, I had placed my used wag bag in the front pocket of my back­pack, sus­pended from a boul­der to de­ter cu­ri­ous crea­tures. But some­thing mis­chievous found a way in.

Why any­thing would ever freely choose to crawl into a be­fouled wag bag and pro­ceed to de­mol­ish its con­tents is be­yond me, but the fol­low­ing morn­ing, when the un­speak­able stench drew me to­wards it, a pow­er­ful dread filled my soul.

Af­ter manag­ing not to faint from the sheer hor­ror - the dark brown stains, the chewed up toi­let pa­per, the man­gled re­mains of what my body had al­ready re­jected, as if each log had been forced through a pen­cil sharp­ener - I pro­ceeded to use an en­tire pack of baby wipes to clean up what I could. It was nasty. Astro­nom­i­cally re­pug­nant. An in­va­sion of the back­pack is one thing. An in­va­sion of the shorts is an al­to­gether nextlevel catas­tro­phe. It was a typ­i­cally hot, hu­mid day in Ton­sai, the beach-climb­ing par­adise in Thai­land, and I had just de­feated the hard­est climb I had ever tried. I was beam­ing as I wolfed down a Thai curry and then ap­proached a 200m-high over­hang­ing lime­stone wall.

Still ra­di­at­ing from my suc­cess­ful morn­ing, I climbed the first pitch and sat com­fort­ably on a spa­cious rock ledge, in­hal­ing the glo­ri­ous view and think­ing, hon­estly, that life couldn’t pos­si­bly be more per­fect. And then, out of nowhere, some­thing sin­is­ter stabbed me in the lower gut. In an in­stant, I hunched over, cheeks clenched tight. The belly demons then played a cruel trick. They pre­tended to va­cate the area, a sud­den, un­ex­plained depar­ture, al­low­ing my cheeks to re­lax with­out any­thing odi­ous es­cap­ing. I even con­sid­ered con­tin­u­ing up. But, pre­dictably, the upset re­turned as abruptly as it left. “I need to go down. NOW!” I bel­lowed with ur­gency. An ab­seil was quickly set up, and in sec­onds I was on a rope, low­er­ing my­self to the ground, clamp­ing my cheeks shut with all my en­ergy and fo­cus. At the base, my toes graz­ing terra firma, I thought I might make it. All I had to do was re­move my har­ness and shorts. But my re­solve buck­led as soon as I turned my mind to some­thing other than keep­ing the flood­gates shut. As I fran­ti­cally fid­dled with my ab­seil de­vice that chained me to the rope, it came to me. There is al­ways a mo­ment of clar­ity just be­fore some­thing aw­ful is un­leashed, gift­ing you a split­sec­ond of calm as you re­sign your­self to your in­ex­orable fate.And then, a gush of warmth.

A soggy weight, sag­ging my shorts. Mus­cles that were squeez­ing so tightly sud­denly turned limp, like a dy­ing sun­flower. As the fever­ish grip of panic re­leased me, I felt an al­most cathar­tic re­lief, doused with a sharp dose of shame. What fol­lowed was a flurry of ac­tiv­ity to con­ceal my crime. I snagged hand­fuls of leaves to wipe off what I could. Like a dog, I scooped up hand­fuls of sand to bury the blem­ish I had left on the ground. Get­ting poo on my skin, my hands, my gear, was no longer an unimag­in­able hor­ror. It was re­al­ity, and sal­va­tion was in a shower in a bun­ga­low, hun­dreds of me­tres away.

This was also the most pop­u­lar place to climb at this hour on this whole penin­sula, and I ex­pected a conga line of climbers to ap­pear at any mo­ment. When it didn't, I could've al­most kissed the ground, had I not just de­filed it.Be­fore the trudge back to my bun­ga­low, I had to pull my shorts back on. Like pulling on wet togs, but in­fin­itely more vile. Walk swiftly. Head down. Nasal pas­sages shut. Dozens of min­utes in the shower and count­less lay­ers of soap. But such a stench, once smelt, never re­ally leaves your mem­ory. The risk of un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously los­ing the con­tents of your bow­els should be enough to de­ter any­one from ever con­sid­er­ing climb­ing a long rock climb. Why sub­ject your­self to such an­tics, when you can be close to a pleas­ant, flush­able toi­let at all times? But it’s a small risk com­pared to the glo­ries and won­ders of the high and the wild.

There is a spe­cial priv­i­lege that comes with bed­ding down af­ter an ex­haust­ing day of ad­ven­tur­ing up a gor­geous, steep, slightly ter­ri­fy­ing wall of rock. To re­lax on a por­taledge and track the sun as it sinks be­hind a moun­tain crest, the sky turn­ing darker shades of blue. To in­hale the still air and vast­ness of your sur­round­ings, which make you be­lieve that all the sub­lime beauty in the world ex­ists in this sin­gu­lar mo­ment, and for your eyes only.

Such bliss­ful mo­ments make all the shitty ones worth it.

Kris­ten Selin and Cole Nel­son en­joy a lazy morn­ing on the spa­cious bivouac ledge El Cap Tower, al­most half­way up The Nose of El Cap­i­tan, Yosemite Na­tional Park, USA. But where is the bath­room?

Paul Szaroz on Jai Dum, 31, a steep test-piece on the beach-climb­ing won­der­land of Ton­sai, Thai­land, where a poor curry can leave in a tight pickle, mid-way up a rock face

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