It’s an idyllic scene. Tents pitched next to the beautiful Nakadake Onsen, about 2.5 hours ski into the heart of the Daisetsuzan National Park, just east of Hokkaido highest peak of Asahidake. We were there during the height of one of Japan’s major public holidays – Golden Week – and there were still only about 10 people camped there. A great way to get away from it all.
Even if this was an official campground however (it is only unofficially permissible to camp here in winter) very few campgrounds in the Daisetsuzan Range have toilets available. They’re certainly not available for use in winter, as the huts that house the toilets are generally buried beneath meters upon meters of snow. So, what to do?
Note in the picture above, someone has walled off a semi-private central spot in the snow as a toilet. This is certainly preferable to all campers finding their own spot and burying their poop in their own holes in the snow. It is not ideal, however, as it is:
- Far too close to the stream. The stream near the onsen is actually a natural spring, originating not very far from the onsen itself.
- The concentration of waste in that one spot will certainly damage the flora under the snow once the snow is gone.
- This hole encourages the disposal of toilet paper into this temporary snow hole too, which will take much longer to decompose than the poop itself.
Here’s a closeup of the poo hole. Better than lots of poo-holes all over the place, but still not ideal. Look close enough (if you dare), and you’ll see toilet paper disposed along with everything else.
One feasible solution to this problem is for hikers and skiers to simply pack out their own human waste. Pooping in a bag and taking it home with you takes some getting used to. However, it is perfectly feasible using the right tools. Outdoor stores in Sapporo sell portable toilets designed for the job. We used the High Mount portable toilets (available on Amazon.co.jp) on our trip to Nakadake Onsen, and they worked a treat.
They’re easy to use – lay the large inner bag down on the ground, poo into it, tie it shut with the supplied string, and then put this inner bag into the thick odor-proof outer bag. The inner bag has an absorbent pad that absorbs and solidifies liquid.
We packed out the bags in our own packs, and they sat in the car for two days before we had a chance to dispose of them in our household burnable trash – we never smelled any untoward odors.
During the peak Daisetsuzan National Park hiking season, there are deposit bins at major trailheads along the Daisetsuzan Range for hikers to dispose of their portable toilets. Outside of these times, portable toilets can be disposed of in any burnable rubbish bins.
Poo bag sizing
At the significant risk of going into far too much detail, please allow me some self-disclosure. On overnight ski trips and hiking trips, I tend to be a once-every-couple-of-days kind of guy when it comes to pooping. Suffice it to say that I tend to require a large bag when the time comes. Scroll down the page, and you’ll see a photo of a black inner bag that we picked up at a local Sapporo outdoor store. I was happy that we’d only brought these as backups – they were laughably small for my needs (am I actually writing this on the Internet?). The High Mount portable toilet packs, however, came with very generous-sized inner bags. All this is to say that you may want to make sure you don’t skimp on the size when deciding on your weapon of choice.
If you’d rather not use all this plastic every time you use the loo and/or need more capacity, consider putting together a Poop Tube. This would do away with having to dispose of the thick, burly plastic outer bags every time. Also, instead having to stuff the plastic bag into your pack, this PVC tube would be easy to strap to the exterior of a pack.
EVERYWHERE IN HOKKAIDO?
Do you need to use a portable toilet everywhere in Hokkaido when snow camping? Ideally, yes. You packed it in, so you should pack it out. However the main area of concern currently is the Daisetsuzan National Park. This amazing range, only 63km long by 59km wide, gets just under 97,000 hikers a year on its backcountry trails during the summer hiking season (source). With such a concentration of visitors, digging catholes is not an option. In winter, the only realistic option for locations such as Nakadake Onsen is for visitors to pack out their own waste.
In other areas of Hokkaido, particularly in winter, packing out one’s own human waste during a winter camping ski trip may not be as pressing. However, if you’re doing your business in the snow, follow the following common-sense rules.
- Where possible, always use a portable toilet of some kind, packing out your own waste with you.
- Never, ever dispose of toilet paper in the snow. Even if you leave your poop in the winter hills, toilet paper should always be packed out – no exceptions.
- Double-check your location on a topographical map – you may be on snow above a hiking trail.