I learned four things while on my adventure: 1) “leave no trace”; 2) hygiene is sort of overrated; 3) how to sleep in the wilderness; and 4) I loved it!
First: Our backpacking guides taught us the wilderness ethic of “leave no trace.” There are no garbage barrels with bear locks in the wilderness. There are no flushing toilets. You set up camp at minimally-prepared designated sites. You don’t pee (No. 1) or move bowels (No. 2) just anywhere. “Leave no trace” requires thoughtfulness and technique. It’s how we help minimize human impact and keep parkland pristine, even as we enjoy it.
Because friends asked me about this quite a bit, this is how you do No. 2 in the wilderness:
- Find your “spot.” You will need some privacy cover. While boulders may work for No. 1, they don’t for No. 2 because you’ll probably hit rock when you try to dig a hole. A wide enough tree located away from the trail and a water source will provide the best cover.
- Use a trowel to dig a 6×6-inch hole and scoop the dirt out. (Our camp trowel was usually on a stump by the campfire, along with hand sanitizer.)
- Squat and aim for the hole.
- Wipe yourself. I had a roll of camper toilet paper. The used paper went into a sealable black plastic baggie. I used a wet wipe for extra hygiene. Into the baggie it also went, until I could dump it all in a garbage bin at the end of our adventure. Leave no trace!
- Take a stick — not the trowel! — and scoot the waste that missed the hole into the hole. Bury it with the scooped-out dirt.
- Plant the stick vertically in the hole to mark the spot so no one else thinks they’ve found their spot. Ew.
Honestly, this beat the hell out of a stinking port-a-potty. (After the adventure, I found this 3rd edition book on this subject. Didn’t I just sum it up in six easy steps? I mean, what else is there to say about it?)
Second: Norovirus could be a problem for campers who don’t apply a basic level of hygiene when using the “facili-trees.” And norovirus spreads very easily. For me, hand sanitizer plus wet wipes provided that minimal level of hygiene. Hand sanitizer alone would just wet up and move dirt around on my hands. But, otherwise, I became indifferent about dirt.
“Washing dishes” after the meal was a minimally effective effort undertaken like an assembly line. We used a common scrubber to remove food remnants from dishes; then wiped off our dishes in cold water, in which bits of food had come off other plates; and then moved on to another vessel to dunk dishes in a sanitizing solution — bleach, maybe? — and, finally, hung them in a net bag to dry. The plates passed the wilderness standard of being clean enough. As long as I was eating from my own plate, I wasn’t going to worry about it. I was more focused on filling my plate with the good meals our guides prepared.
Third: I finally mastered how to get a good night’s sleep by my last night at Yosemite. Each night, I zipped myself inside the tent and sleeping bag, with no intention of getting up and out before daybreak. But, one night I had a stomach ache. I really needed to get the trowel and find a tree, but it was dark, cold, and scary. I didn’t budge … to my great discomfort.
I started hearing sounds, like a nest of rodents were burrowing a trench all around my tent. I heard them first on one side of the tent and then the other. I was surrounded! I heard sounds like something — a bear! — rooting about in my backpack (which was outside my tent and propped against a boulder). Why, I wondered, would the bear bother since my food was in a bear can? The only things with a scent were the plastic baggies of used toilet paper. And so my mind worked overtime … all night long.
At first light, I jumped up and ran for the trowel. As I walked back to my tent, I listened. The “bear” sound was the restless sleeping of another backpacker in a neighboring tent. The “rodent” sound was another restless backpacker, whose sleeping bag was on a sheet of plastic. Those were the movements I’d heard … all night long.
By my last night in the tent, I got it right. I knew how to stay warm while sleeping after the temperature dropped from 75 to 40 degrees. I ignored noises. And, finally, I slept like a baby … all night long.
Fourth (and most important): This was a great experience! I want to do it again. I want to learn orienteering and how to cook in the wilderness. Yosemite park rangers say that only about 10% of the park’s visitors ever go up into the wilderness. Most visitors drive through, use the park shuttles, or take a bus tour. I realized how lucky I was to see the back country, hard as it was to get there.
One day, we hiked to Ten Lakes (for which our trail was named). Fortunately, we used our daypacks instead of the backpacks. We only had to carry a portion of the camp lunch, our water, and personal snacks. Along the way, I’d forgotten that the last (and easiest) 20 minutes our first day’s hike was downhill into the base camp. To leave base camp, we had to hike uphill. Those first 20 minutes kicked my ass, even with the lighter daypack. But, this experience was worth it!
We emerged in this alpine meadow.
The trail is very narrow for the least human impact as possible. Staying on the trail was essential to avoid damaging very fragile wildflowers.
From far above, you can see one of the Ten Lakes — the bit of blue in the distance. The Ten Lakes are named by number, and I don’t know which one this was. Our guide, Tyler, told us we were headed “down there.” That far down meant a steep climb back up.
On the way, we found moments to look over the treeline at the mountains on the other side in awe and meditation.
When the glaciers pushed through they left landscape elements like this. One huge rock surface was incredibly smooth like a granite kitchen counter. Izzy led us in yoga, and we also rested on that rock.
We made our way down the mountain to the lakes. We passed Boy Scouts and families with very young children. Wow, they sure started young (not in their 50s, like me). But, as the saying goes: ‘There’s no time like the present.’
Another well-earned rest stop and hydration break.
We followed the trail across a little stream.
Our guides, Tyler and Izzy, gave us a wonderful lunch — a variety of meats, cheeses, gluten-free crackers, dried fruits, and guacamole made on-the-spot when we reached one of the lakes. We hung out there for awhile. I took in the peace of the scene. Others swam in the lake.
And we took a group photo.
Climbing back to the top wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Tyler set a slower, meditative pace.
On our last day, the final hike down to our cars went faster. We were motivated. We were mostly going downhill. Our packs were lighter, thank God. (We had eaten most of the food we had carried up and brought back down a minimal amount of garbage. Leave no trace!)
When we reached the parking lot, Izzy and Tyler treated us to steaming hot washcloths to wipe our faces. I couldn’t believe the amount of dirt and grime that was on my face. While I was on the adventure, I also didn’t care. At the end, though, a hot shower urgently beckoned; my body had surpassed its tolerance for minimal hygiene.
Thank you, Tyler and Izzy, for being great REI Adventure guides and giving us a gotta-do-it-again experience! Thanks to fellow backpackers, Santiago and Paul, whose wonderful photos contributed to this series!