Human Waste Management on the Whitney Trail, CA

By Garry Oye, District Ranger, White Mountain & Mount Whitney Ranger Districts Inyo National Forest.

In 1873 John Muir climbed Mount Whitney. Over 100 years later, the Whitney Trail cuts through a place we now call the John Muir Wilderness. It has become one of the most popular wildernesses in the National Wilderness Preservation System. Each year 16,000 people attempt to climb and summit Mt. Whitney at an elevation of 14,497 feet above sea level.

With all of these climbers comes the challenge of what to do with their human waste. Toilets have been in place along the trail since the 1960s. Despite several renovations and retro-fits, the dehydrating toilets never functioned very well. A helicopter was needed to fly 4,000 pounds of human waste out each year. Helicopters and toilet buildings compromise the areas wilderness character.

In 2004, a voluntary pack-out program was instituted. Climbers were asked to pack their human waste to Whitney Portal Trailhead using pack-out kits.

In 2006, Whitney climbers voluntarily packed 3,600 pounds of their human waste out to the trailhead. With the success of this pack out program, there is now a safe and sanitary way for each individual to deal with their own human waste.

In late November of this year Forest Service rangers removed the toilet at Outpost Camp. Earlier in the summer, Park Service rangers removed the toilet near the summit. Forest Service rangers plan to remove the Trail Camp toilet in 2007 and require all climbers to pack their waste to the trailhead.

I want to thank the Whitney climbers and rangers for helping find a solution to the human waste challenge. I think we now have a system that is workable for today as well as into the future, said District Ranger Garry Oye.

For more information please contact Garry Oye at (760) 873-2464.

Editors note: the success of the Indian Creek Wag Bag Movementstarted by the Access Fund and continues to be managed by the AF Affiliate, Friends of Indian Creekincludes self serve distribution of human waste bags at kiosks around the park.

This program is applicable across the nation at various climbing areas. For more information, contact Jason Keith, Access Fund Policy Director at Jason@accessfund.org.

The Access Fund encourages the use of human waste bags when toilets are not available. They are a sanitary, no mess, no smell solution that are easy to use and pack out.

AF Corporate Partner RESTOP manufactures the bags and sells them online www.restop.com. Metolius, Mountain Gear, and REI also carry similar human waste systems.