Pooping on the Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse

Posted on Sep 12, 2021
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Posted on Sep 12, 2021
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Reading time: 7 min
Those much too cheerful humans in the photo above are showing you their poop bags. They're about six days into an eight day Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse hiking journey. By the end of the traverse, they (and I, the photographer) would each be carrying about four days worth of their own human waste. This is an inevitable outcome of thru-hiking the length of the Daisetsuzan National Park. Most huts/campsites have toilets, but some don't. With hiker numbers increasing, cat-holes just ain't sustainable. Here's how to pack your poop, do it without freaking out (and with no exploding ziplocks), and how not to get hung up on it all.

“I’m a bit shocked at how heavy it is,” remarked Ben, as he emerged from the toilet booth at Bieifuji Hut.

It was his first time to poop into a bag, let alone then carefully double-wrap the bag in two layers of ziplocks, finally putting the still-warm package into a sturdy drybag to carry on his back for the next five days.

A while later, it was Gerry’s turn in the booth. After a long while, she emerged. It was her first time too. The pensive expression suggested she needed some time to process what had just happened.

“I just shat into a bag,” she said after a few moments.

Then, she started laughing. “I’m surprised at how warm it is,” she said, holding the well-sealed drybag close to her body.

It was, after all, a chilly morning.

Then we all ate lunch.

KEEPING A NATIONAL PARK BEAUTIFUL

As little as five years ago in 2017, Denica Shute, author of Mapping Lanes, wrote of her experience on the Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse, “amongst the grass mounds and rock formations [at Minaminuma Campsite] there was a lot of abandoned human excrement and tissue” (source) and “as with the previous campsite there was a lot of human excrement around [Bieifuji Hut]” (source).

Due to the diligent efforts of government agencies, NPOs and volunteers, we can cautiously say this is no longer the case.

Facility upgrades as well as extensive public education campaigns around packing out one’s own waste appear to have made what Shute experienced a thing of the past. During our eight-day thru-hike of the longest possible version of the Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse in August 2021, we saw only very little evidence of human excrement. Look hard enough, and you’ll find some old remnants of toilet paper near some campgrounds, but overall, campsites were spotless. Bieifuji Hut certainly was just a hut, the mountains, and happy, chirpy pikas.

Portable Toilets as a central strategy

A central part of this success is the now wide acceptance among Hokkaido hikers of packing out one’s own waste in the Daisetsuzan National Park – not just protein bar wrappers, but one’s own poop too. We’ve written about it in the past, in this post about packing it out while ski touring. Suffice it say that the use of single-use portable toilet bags (WAG bags, ziploc bags etc) and carrying one’s own effluence around with you is now par for the course for hikers in Daisetsuzan.

Local guides we’ve spoken to stress that they’d prefer this not to be the case. They (and we) would prefer there to be drop toilets at every hut and campsite in the Daisetsuzan Range. Certainly, there has been a lot of movement towards this the past few years. But a lack of funding means drop toilets at every campsite/hut is an ideal situation still some ways off. 

In the interim, new sturdy toilet/privacy booths have been installed at Minaminuma Campsite and Bieifuji Hut. Gone are the flimsy, laughable temporary tents. In their place are solid structures that make the experience less taxing. This is certainly adding to the increase acceptance of packing out one’s own poop.

Hikers can use these privacy booths to use their portable toilet bags in relative comfort. We’re fans (as much as one can be of methods of carrying one’s own poop) of the Montbell O.D. Toilet Kits. They’re about 300yen each, available in outdoor stores or on Amazon.co.jp (here). They consist of a large supermarket-style plastic bag, a sturdy ‘smell-proof’ ziploc-style outer bag, and some gelling agent. Montbell claims the outer bags are smell-proof, but there is still definitely some funk after a few days. So, we put the ziploc packages into Montbell’s made-for-the-purpose ‘Garbage Bag‘. This drybag has an extra strap at the bottom that helps attach the bag to the outside of a pack, without it swinging about. These will hold about four or five ‘packages’, with no smell.

Wait, Wait, What?! Carry my own poop?

If you’ve never pooped into a bag and carried it with you, I get it. To our modern, sanitary, flush-it-down-and-never-see-it-again spoiled selves, the idea is anathema. Simply an idea one should not entertain. An insult upon one’s good manners, reputation, and indeed morals.

But it’s really not that difficult, particularly if you’ve planned ahead and brought a stock of WAG bags.

STEP 1: Poop into a medium- to large-size plastic bag.
STEP 2: Wipe your bum.
STEP 3: Put toilet paper into bag with poop.
STEP 4: Tie up bag.
STEP 5: Put that bag into another sturdier bag.
STEP 6: Tie up (or zip up) that second bag.
STEP 7: Put the package into a sturdy drybag you’re carrying for the purpose.
STEP 8: Attach drybag to outside of pack.
STEP 9: Get on with your hike.
STEP 10: Dispose of portable toilet bags at collection bins at trailheads.

Yes, your shit stinks*.

Yes, you have to look it in the face as you tie up that first bag, and press out the extra air from the bag.

Yes, your toilet bag will be heavy, and you’ll resent it for being such. Depending on body size, each addition to your poop-specific drybag will cost you an extra 100 to 400g on your back (source).

But done right, while your poop still stinks, your toilet bag will not stink.

And you’ll be doing the right thing.

And, you’ll be able to enjoy the prestige of being a real adventurer (like those big-wall climbers).

*Mine doesn’t, it smells like roses.

More details: See Adventure Hokkaido’s helpful post about mobile toilet bags in the Daisetsuzan Range.

What about urine?

The Daisetsuzan National Park Council is also concerned about the concentration of damage to delicate volcanic and alpine vegetation caused by hikers peeing in common places – around campsites, near huts, at junctions, near water sources, along highly trafficked trails, and near summits. This is more likely to be an issue in the northern end of the range (north of Tomuraushi-yama) where hiker numbers are much higher. In these high-use places, urine should be packed out. The Council also requests that hikers strive to pack out urine in other places also (see this notice in Japanese).

In practice, this may involve carrying a dedicated wide-mouth pee-bottle for use on the trail, with the intention to dispose of the urine when you get to a hut with a toilet. If you’d rather not pee into a bottle, WAG bags (such as the Montbell OD Toilet) have gelling agents that will easily absorb a full bladder’s worth of urine. You’d then dispose of the used toilet bag at a trailhead collection point (although you’ll be carrying it for a number of days if on the Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse).

Portable toilet collection points

The majority of trailheads in the Daisetsuzan Range now also have collection bins for you to drop your bags off. You can see a list of them using the map below (map courtesy of the Hokkaido Mountain Toilet Measures Association 山のトイレを考える会).

On-the-trail collection: Hakuun-dake Refuge Hut

Since summer 2021, for a 1000yen fee, the hut wardens at Hakuun-dake Refuge Hut will happily take your used toilet bags off you (1000yen per bag). They’ll then porter it down the mountain for you.

And I say ‘happily’ because really…the warden was sooo happy that we were taking advantage of the service. “You’re the second customer,” she beamed.

This service can be helpful for thru-hikers who may want to lighten their load.

W.A.G. Bag options in Hokkaido

W.A.G. (Waste Alleviation and Gelling) toilet bags are available in any large outdoor store in Hokkaido. They’re also available online at Amazon.co.jp (as mentioned above, Montbell’s pack of three compact ones are a favourite). They’re not cheap. Expect to pay about 300yen per poop (they’re single-use). The double-ziploc bag option is also perfectly OK, and much cheaper, but may not give as much peace of mind, and you won’t have the gelling agent.

For drybags, you can use any sturdy drybag. Montbell’s ‘Garbage Bag‘ is great, but others on our trip were using a small size Sea to Summit dry bag.

Some light edutainment on Poop bag options

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Pooping on the Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse Difficulty Rating

Category

Grade

Points

Strenuousness

Vertical Gain

D

25

Time ascending

D

0

Technicality

Altitude

D

0

Hazards

D

Navigation

D

Totals

25/100

GRADES range from A (very difficult) to D (easy). Hazards include exposure to avalanche and fall risk. More details here. Rating rubric adapted from Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook 北海道雪山ガイド.