In my last vignette, I mentioned building snow sculptures down near the privies at Vinson Base Camp. Since I mentioned them, I thought I would do a vignette on how human waste is dealt with both at Union Glacier and Vinson Base Camp…so a warning…there is lots of potty talk below.
At Union Glacier, the toilets are contained in modular trailer like units. Users are asked to separate their urine and feces. The urine is captured then hand pumped into tanks for transportation back to Chile for proper disposal. Similarly, feces are stored in containers until they can be flown back to South America (with the cold and absence of decomposing bacteria, any feces deposited in Antarctica will remain there for a very long time. Antarctica Logistics and Expeditions (the company that provides and flights and base camps) has made a tremendous commitment to protecting the fragile environment of Antarctica.
At Vinson Base Camp, feces and urine are separately as well (can be quite a challenge sometimes for those of us of the female persuasion). Feces are collected in special containers (seen above) for transportation back to Chile. Urine is dumped into a single augered hole at each camp. At base camp, we women had the convenience of using a big pee bucket rather than our pee bottles.
Grey water from cooking and dishes is strained to remove any particles and is then dumped down the camp’s urine hole.
Above base camp, climbers must collect their feces in a “wag bag”. These handy kits contain a capture bag that has some cool powder that turns liquid solid and then an outer ziplock for overall storage. Each kit also has a handy wipe and a bit of TP.
Between camps, one has to do a fancy “hold the wag bag up to your bottom to catch” manoeuvre. A both low and high camp, small buckets with toilet seats make the move much easier (and the snow walls afford a wee bit of privacy from the others sharing camp).
The deed is done and packaged. Fortunately the super cold freezes the wag bag solid pretty quickly. Each climber carries his or her waste down the mountain back to base camp where it is then collected all together for the flight to Union Glacier and onto Chile for proper disposal.
Here’s what a urine/grey water dump looks like. Again, between camps, climbers must capture their urine in a pee bottle and carry it up or down the mountain to a dump site.
It takes some effort to deal with one’s waste properly but keeping Vinson from looking like a bathroom is very worth it. The impacts of us being there were concentrated in a few locations, most waste was taken to more fertile soil for decomposition, and there was much less “yellow” snow than on any other mountain I’ve been on.