My sore muscles cried out in rebellion as I clambered out of the tent and onto crunchy ice. My sleep deprived mind racing, trying to figure out if I should actually let her…
Minutes prior, my girlfriend, Natalie, had demanded I evacuate the premises of my brand new tent so she could turn it into a make-shift outhouse. I was perplexed – after all, her reasoning was valid – where else do you “go” on a glacier?
To be honest, I was scared and confused. My tent’s factory fresh smell was about to be replaced with the “fragrance de port-o-john.” God forbid she misses the wag bag, which, for those of you who don’t know, is literally a bag that holds your feces, allowing you to subsequently pack it out. The exemplification of “Leave No Trace.” To be clear, the bags are by no means large, and pooping in a bag is not without its complications.
Before I continue, let me explain how I arrived at this conundrum. I spent much of the summer living and climbing in Yosemite National Park, and I had planned to finish the summer up by climbing Mt Rainier in Mount Rainier National park, Washington. Mt Rainier, standing at 14,000 feet, is a heavily glaciated peak. Due to its extreme terrain, the mountain requires much more experience, skills and logistics than other 14ers. Though I had climbed the mountain before, I had never slept on a glacier and, therefore, I was unaware of the social norms that are associated with glacial camping. I was concerned with things like: “What route do we take?” and “what gear do we bring?”—not “where do you relieve yourself on a flat glacier that is crawling with people?” In hindsight, that question would have saved me from my current predicament.
The day of the climb started like any other morning that summer. Beneath the dense canopy of firs and hemlocks, dawn was ushered in by sounds of birds chirping excitedly. A soft breeze cleared the dampness of night and brought with it the freshness of dawn. With a ritualistic cup of coffee to sharpen our minds, Natalie and I gave our climbing gear a final check. After testing our glacier rescue skills on a few “crevice stricken logs,” we embarked on our drive to the trailhead.
At 4pm, with our packs full and our glacier skills honed, we were ready for Rainier. I know what you’re thinking – 4 p.m. is a pretty late start. However, instead of late, I like to think of it as an extremely early start—the consummate “Alpine Start.” Either way, we planned to sleep on the Ingraham Glacier, which was a 5.3-mile hike that took climbers from Paradise Lodge, at an elevation of 5,500 feet, to the Ingraham Flats at 11,100 feet.
I assumed we would be there by 10 p.m., which is pretty late, but the following day was a rest day—we could sleep in if needed. Unbeknownst to me at the time, six hours was an underestimate… We over shot our time by 5 hours, arriving the following morning at 3 a.m. Like a runaway dog relishing its newfound freedom, I was frolicking about, snapping photos the whole way up. It isn’t every day you have the opportunity to watch the headlamps of climbers peruse their way up a glacier or watch the moon just peering above distant peaks. I was in photography heaven.
Following our photography filled journey, we arrived, exhausted, at our glacial campsite, Ingraham Flats. Ingraham Flats is a pseudo campground where many climbers spend the night in preparation for climbing the following day. Truth be told, the Ingraham Flats, as they are called, are not flat. They should be renamed The Ingraham Slants since they are, in fact, slanted. This is, of course, a non-issue for most climbers, as they are able to shovel the snow and ice into a perfect tent platform. We were not like most climbers. The sound of shovels hitting the glacial ice at 4 a.m. would have created serious animosity between us and the other climbing parties who were sleeping soundly. So, instead, we settled for the remnants of a tent platform, which supported half of the tent, while leaving the other half to drop off into a slant.
We piled the rope, packs and other items into our tent in an attempt to fill this abysmal slant. This fix was only half successful, but our exhausted bodies didn’t care. We placed our sleeping pads onto the sloping gear and, following a quick meal, promptly fell asleep. We passed out around 4am and I hoped to sleep until at least 2 p.m., which brings me to about where I left off.
“Nevin, Nevin.” I can hear my girlfriend calling out in a hoarse whisper from outside the tent. “Nevin.”
Ignoring her attempts to get my attention, I lay still, hoping she will give up. My fuzzy vision makes out 9 a.m. on the watch dangling from the tent ceiling. I hear my name again, this time sounding more desperate.
“What?” I reply.
“I have to poop,” she said.
Taken back, I reply with the logical, “Ok, go poop.”
Silence. It seems my solution worked and I can fall back asleep.
“Nevin!” Her voice is much more desperate.
I sigh. “What?”
“…. Where do I go?”
I was befuddled – I had no idea where it was kosher to relieve one’s self on a glacier. “I don’t know, figure it out,” I reply in an attempt to gain more time.
I can hear her footsteps wander off. Brainstorming, I am desperate to figure out a pooping plan. After all, I don’t want to be that crazy couple that just keeps relieving themselves in the open for all to see. Unable to come up with any ideas, I consider asking some other climber. However, my ego`s desire to avoid looking like an idiot quickly puts that idea to rest.
“I think you are supposed to go inside the tent.” I hear her say.
I freeze. “Oh god,” I think to myself.
There is silence as I consider my options. I can hear the ice crunch under her boots, reminiscent of a little kid doing the pee dance.
“Get out,” she demands.
The situation is getting serious. My exhausted brain is unable to come up with any solutions and I begin to think she is right. Maybe climbers do go in the tent. Either way, it was the best option. Somehow I began to accept the fact that my girlfriend was about to christen my tent.
Slowly I rise, dreading what is about to happen. As I unzip the tent, I hope to see her smiling in an “I’m just kidding” kind of way. Instead, her face is the epitome of desperation. She is shifting her weight nervously from one foot to the other. In one hand she is holding a wag bag, and in the other, she is clenching baby wipes. “Shit,” I think to myself.
With the help of Natalie’s excessive prodding, I clamber onto the glacier and, without hesitation, she dives into the tent. After my eyes adjust to the daylight, I begin to take in my surroundings; climbers are wandering among the tents and, in the distance, I can see climbing parties coming off the summit.
Something catches my eye – a man-sized hole is in the middle of the makeshift campground. Suddenly, it dawns on me – that has to be the bathroom.
“Yea,” she responds.
“Hang on, I think that hole is the restroom.”
“Oh, that thing? It looked gross, and people would be able to see your head when you squat.”
Now, this is a subject of contentious debate. Natalie claims that she honestly didn’t “know that was the restroom.” That being said, I am telling the story, and I am convinced she simply did not want to use the camp restroom. She wanted the comfort and privacy provided by my new tent.
“No, hell no,” I proclaim. “Get out of my tent!”
“But people can see you,” she whines.
“I don’t care, you are not pooping in my tent!”
Relenting, she unzips the tent. We make eye contact and immediately start laughing about the insanity of the situation. As Natalie dons her mountaineering boots to make the conspicuous bathroom trek through the middle of camp, I feel an overwhelming sense of relief. After all, my tent is no longer in danger of being desecrated by my girlfriend.
The experience, though traumatizing at the time, ended up making the trip memorable. We were able to fix the tent platform and finally get rest for our upcoming summit day. At 11 p.m. that night, we started for the summit. Natalie, climbing like a seasoned mountaineer, summited Mt. Rainier for the first time that morning. Later that day, we were exhausted and sore, though we were the wiser about glacial restroom etiquette. Thinking back, I am just grateful I was not on her side of the calamity that cold morning.
Collegian Blogger Nevin Fowler can be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @nevintfowler or on Instagram @nevintfowler. Leave a comment!