Column: Mary-Ann Ochota
Is wild camp hygiene at rock bottom?
It’s a glorious day in the
Peak District. Hazy, sweaty, satisfying. We’ve just toiled up Jacob’s Ladder and we plop down at the side of the path to take a breather. I shrug off my rucksack and lean back. Ah, bliss. But then, a smell. A horrid smell. That tangy, distinctive public-toilet-that-someone-didn’t-flush smell. I look to my right and about two inches from where my rucksack rests is a small rock on top of a pile of pink toilet paper and what was clearly the contents of someone’s bowel. Right. Next. To. The. Path. Right next to my rucksack. Right next to me.
I leap up, grab my bag and stagger backwards. I feel soiled, even though I didn’t touch the mess. Even now, on the other side of the path I can feel the stink in my nostrils and can see the pink paper and the streaks of… well. Enough said. Maybe they were caught short. But so short that they couldn’t even get away from the path? But did have the time and inclination to find the Andrex? And then didn’t have enough time to stick around and deal with their deposit?! Pfft.
I thought Poo-Gate was an exception, an aberration. But then at a recent lecture on hillwalking first aid, the speaker – a member of the local mountain rescue team and a GP – cautioned us against ever drinking hillside water that hasn’t been filtered or treated, especially from those ‘unspoilt’ Lakeland tarns. Why? Because so many people don’t deal with their waste properly that giardiasis is now endemic. That’s the bacterial infection that can give you painful, stinky diarrhoea for a week or more. How do you get it? The NHS website cuts to the chase – “you can become infected if small bits of poo from an infected person get in your mouth.”
Most people act responsibly. They carry a small bag stashed in their rucksack containing loo roll, hand sanitiser and, crucially, a trowel to bury their waste. My trowel is plastic, from Homebase and cost £1.50. No, you might not be planning on needing a dump – but if you do, for the sake of a couple of hundred grams and for the sake of your fellow hillwalkers, please be prepared. Move at least 50m from paths and water courses. Dig a hole at least six inches deep, and wide enough that you’re not going to miss. Do your business in the hole, then backfill it, careful to keep your trowel out of the waste – the trowel is for the clean soil, not for shovelling your Number 2.
If you’re with a group of newbies, kids or your family, brief them in advance. Maybe agree on a toileting location and if you’re wild camping, you could even pre-dig holes that evening, ready for the morning. If you’re sharing a toilet bag, put it somewhere that everyone can reach discreetly, without feeling embarrassed. And if you’re somewhere rocky or frozen, make alternative plans to carry your waste out with you. Yes, human waste is organic and will biodegrade. But before that – unless it’s buried properly – small bits of poo could get in someone’s mouth. Which is definitely not okay.
“I feel soiled, even though I didn’t touch the mess”
Dig a hole, people – you know it makes sense.