Ian Mitchell examines a more literal type of anal (non)-retentive obsession.
YOU WORK AWAY, honing your mountaineering masterpieces to literary perfection (you think), and you sell a measly few thousand. Enough, if you are lucky, to replace that cagoule which has been leaking for several seasons. And then someone comes along and writes a book about how to wipe your arse, and it is a mega-best-seller. Soon every mag and journal you open is full of articles about how to dispose of your faecal waste in the wilds, and the dread terrors which await us if we shit politically incorrectly. Have we all become anal-erotics, or does this obsession with bowel movements represent the arrested anal retention of the increasingly middle class over-strictly toilet-trained mountaineering public?
Firstly let's dispose of piss - or, for the prudish, urine. Piss is harmless, if spread about a bit. In fact, piss is sterile and if you have a cut or rash (or athlete's foot, as Madonna will tell you), and if you don't have a urinary infection, piss on the affected part for want of anything better. (Murdo has long been recommending this as a cheap and eco-friendly method of boot-waxing and cagoule/tent-sealing - Ed.) Similarly, once you have had your shit, if there are sticky bits left, wash them off your hands, not to mention your arse, with piss. Do you the world of good. As for the ground, your old leak is full of nitrogen, great for the crops, so spread it over any herbage that looks a bit spindly. Now for the shit ...
Shit is unpleasant; it sticks and it smells. But let's face it, the whole of the outdoors is covered with the stuff; sheep-shit, deer-shit, cow-shit, and the faecal deposits of every bird and mammal imaginable. Yet I have not seen any suggestion that in northern latitudes like ours this is any threat to health - especially to the water supply. But human shit, you say, is more concentrated, and at the CIC Hut on Ben Nevis (CAC Hut surely? - Ed.) it certainly makes the water below the hut undrinkable. Hardly typical. At the west end of Loch Arkaig are about a dozen formerly occupied houses, which supported a population of about fifty before WW1. Shitting, every day, all year - that amounts to much more crap than the two or three bothies left in the area now contribute to the environment. But they didn't die off ... why should we today? Is our shit more toxic?
Certainly they don't think so in Nepal, where a mate of mine was followed all over the place by a local with a rake, waiting to get worm-free turd for his potato patch. In the Ordesa Cańón in Spain another pal fancied a night under the stars. The ground for a distance was covered by desiccated turds wrapped in non-desiccating paper. He cleared a space and lived to tell the tale. Below most continental huts the effluent problem is far far worse than any we encounter in this country, yet if the list of fatalities from the effects of human waste is rivalling those in accidents I fail to have heard about it. I remember below the Kaunergrathütte in Austria, a bergschrund-cracked glacier of shit at the bottom of a cliff; the folk in the valley looked well enough.
Shit is unpleasant, but let's not panic. A few simple remedies should suffice. Try and go before ye go, or wait till yet get haim, as my mammy used to say. Men can do this on a day out - women excel at keeping "it" in in uncomfortable surroundings for days. Try and go on the hill, avoiding turd clusters around living/drinking areas. Spread the faeces about with a bit of stick to aid decomposition. If possible, burn the paper, or wipe yer bum with some natural, biodegradable product like a docken leaf - or just dicht yer airse in a burn. Multi-coloured "paper flowers" on the hill annoy me more than their cankerous contents. In one or two places, like the CIC or Corrour, adoption of the scheme that has worked at Coruisk Hut - a septic tank, or something similar - may be necessary. But basically the fanatics of bowel control have overstated their case, and while there may be a little more than just faecal to worry about, don't let guilt about your shit spoil your day. And use that book-token wisely!