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#37164 - 06/05/14 09:42 PM Whitney Waste Solutions: WAG bags, toilets, or ???
wazzu Offline


Registered: 06/20/10
Posts: 319
Loc: Orange County, CA
I'm starting this thread with the intent to discuss the various options to the human waste problem on Mt Whitney. There will be a little intro, some background to explain how and why the current wag bag process was started, and the issues with the current system, however, the focus of the discussion should be the options that are now available and how to move forward. For readability purposes, I'm going to make a few posts with all this info.

To help keep everyone on topic there are going to be some "ground rules".

1. This thread is for brainstorming.
2. There are no bad ideas.
3. Opinions are fine, but be respectful.
4. Try to build off other ideas.
5. Be clear, concise, and constructive.

INTRODUCTION:
For anyone that is asking "What is a Wag Bag and why is there sooooo many discussions about them?" (WAG = Waste Alleviation and Gelling)
If you plan to hike Mt. Whitney, for better or worse (more on the side of worse) you will quickly become acquainted with the ubiquitous (much like an invasive species along the trail) object.

I like the little intro from http://www.mount-whitney.com regarding the WAG Bag:

Mt Whitney WAG Bag

As well as standard practices for leaving no trace, you must take even more heroic measures; the amount of human waste on Mt. Whitney had raised a big stink…




So, what goes up must come down. Along with your permits, you are issued a WAG BAG — a system for packing out your "waste". The bags can be obtained in Lone Pine at the Interagency Visitors Center and the Crabtree Ranger Station. The cost of the WAG bag is included in your $15 fee.
The WAG bag is a plastic bag with a urine-activated powder to encapsulate and deodorize solid waste. The waste is then contained in a zip-lock style bag to pack it down the mountain.
Keep your used WAG bag out of the sun, check the seal, and carry some extra plastic bags to double bag your , er, "stuff".


Now doesn't that all just sound so exciting when thinking about spending some time out on the trail.

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#37165 - 06/05/14 09:44 PM Re: Whitney Waste Solutions: WAG bags, toilets, or ??? [Re: wazzu]
wazzu Offline


Registered: 06/20/10
Posts: 319
Loc: Orange County, CA
BACKGROUND:
Being the tallest peak in the lower 48, the demand to access this trail is similar Half Dome and other iconic hikes. About 17,000 hikers hit the trail each year after all is said and done with the lottery, reservations, cancellations, and walk-ins. That's the capacity of a typical sports arena and a lot of human waste to deal with over a 4-month season. Especially, once above treeline and the trail is all granite and hard surface. There is no place to dig a cathole to bury your waste.

Here's a link to 2004 Environmental Assessment, which has an excellent historical record of the problem.

As you can read in the EA, the intent was to replace the old toilets, which were about 20 years old. At this point in time, a new District Ranger arrived and hired a Ranger he worked with previously where they implemented a packout waste program using bags on Mt Shasta. Within a few years, the toilets were removed and a waste packout program was implemented on Mt Whitney. There was much "lively" conversation during this time about the process and other options.

It's important to understand the implications of what happened because it affects possible alternatives for change, which is the focus of this thread.

1. The environmental process (NEPA) was not completed. The Environmental Assesment was circulated for public comments, but there was no decision document to finalize the process. Therefore, no Forest Order can be written to legally require the use of a WAG Bag. It's a voluntary system, although it's not portrayed that way. So ideas that rely on law enforcement need to understand this.

2. The Whitney trail is mostly within the John Muir Wilderness. Maintaining or replacing existing structures that are required for resource protection, such as the old toilets, is done routinely even in Wilderness areas. But building new structures in the Wilderness is very controversial. There are exceptions to Wilderness regulations, but various groups tend to fight those exceptions in court.

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#37166 - 06/05/14 09:45 PM Re: Whitney Waste Solutions: WAG bags, toilets, or ??? [Re: wazzu]
wazzu Offline


Registered: 06/20/10
Posts: 319
Loc: Orange County, CA
ISSUES WITH THE CURRENT SYSTEM:
People react in a variety of ways to packing their waste, but it's safe to say nobody actually likes to have more weight in their pack, especially this content. There's a temptation to leave a full bag on the trail and retrieve it on the way down. Some people just change their minds once the reality of the situation hits them and they ditch the bag. Others try to dig a cathole or just go on the rock. What makes or breaks this system is the level of compliance. Unless it's 100%, or very close to it, the effects are in plain site and smell.

So is the current system "working"? It depends on how much noncompliance you want to live with. It appears to be low enough to not have water quality issues. The large volume of snowmelt that flushes the system each year helps with that. You don't see big water quality issues in the High Sierra anyway from human waste, even in heavily used backpacking areas with a lot of catholes. If water quality issues start to occur, there will be a big push to reduce quotas, which is what some want all along. Toilets would be back on the table front and center because they provide proven environmental protection - but that requires new structures in the wilderness.

Sanitation is another big issue with carrying a bag of feces in a backpack. The outside of the bag can have "remnants" especially if it's used more that once. Repeated contamination can occur each time the bag is handled, and if you're eating trail mix or a sandwich, well you get the picture.

What do northbound thru-hikers do with their used bag? The next trash dumpster on the trail is about 100 miles away and several days of travel. Even someone doing a shorter hike may have to carry the bag for days. A few days of that can change the tune for camp sing-a-longs. A common solution is to empty the bag where a cathole can be dug and carry the out the empty bag. However, this introduces chemical gel into the wilderness.

The poor Rangers, having to go on endless WAG Bag "Search And Retrieve" missions. This doesn't look good on the job description for recruitment, or maybe they didn't know they were signing up for this. Probably not on their resume when they move on either. Is this how we want to spend scarce wilderness management dollars, or do Rangers have better things to do?

Then there are all those new people going into the "wilderness" for their first time on this popular trail. Who knows how many are being turned off by all of the above?

If you have read this far, THANK YOU for you time and interest in this subject. I hope a civil and respectful discussion on possible options to the wag bag system and how to get involved will now start. As stated at the beginning (if you can remember that far back), all ideas are welcome and participation in the discussion is encouraged.

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#37168 - 06/05/14 10:42 PM Re: Whitney Waste Solutions: WAG bags, toilets, or ??? [Re: wazzu]
SierraNevada Offline


Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 1063
Loc: NorCal
IDEAS FOR NEXT STEPS
Moving forward is a complicated process by any path. It involves technical, political, and possibly legal challenges. There has to be a motivation of some sort. The motivation may come as a water pollution issue, or from Rangers tired of picking up bags, or from a unified public, or from new management. The public seems divided on the issue and generally apathetic, but anything is possible.

To kick things off, here is a parital list of previously discussed solutions (no particular order):

- Do nothing and continue with current WAG Bag system as is.

- Lower quotas similar to other trails with catholes. Here's a link to Eastern Sierra trail quotas. Whitney current has 185 permits per day, but the average Inyo trail is about 15-30 per day. That's why some sort of waste management system is necessary. But the public demand for access to this peak exceeds the existing quota, which is why there's a lottery for permits, so lowering the quota would be like locking people out.

- Collection bins for WAG Bags. Use llamas or mules to pack them out.

- Solar toilets serviced by llamas or mules
. - One toilet at Outpost Camp, WAG Bags on Upper Trail
. - Solar toilets at both Outpost and Trail Camps

- A la carte solution.

- Fresh ideas.

Give this some thought, and share your ideas while keeping the ground rules in mind. This is not a scientific poll to gauge public sentiment, it's a brainstorming opportunity.

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#37169 - 06/05/14 10:45 PM Re: Whitney Waste Solutions: WAG bags, toilets, or ??? [Re: SierraNevada]
Akichow Offline


Registered: 04/07/10
Posts: 659
Loc: SF Bay Area
I think the rangers should hand out Immodium at the trailhead. If no one goes, there is no problem. No fuss, no mess. No toilets, no bags, no llamas. Simple, right?

wink

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#37181 - 06/06/14 08:49 AM Re: Whitney Waste Solutions: WAG bags, toilets, or ??? [Re: Akichow]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1239
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
Hmmm...Immodium, took it once at Guitar Lake and still had problem all the way to the Hostel. I used the WAG more times in that one day than ever before or since.

Just saying.

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#37183 - 06/06/14 08:56 AM Re: Whitney Waste Solutions: WAG bags, toilets, or ??? [Re: SierraNevada]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1239
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
Unfortunately, nothing can be done without an uproar from an established group with a bit of political power. Therefore, the question should how do you get a politically powerful group behind an effort to right this wrong. The obvious ones are the Sierra Club and the Chamber of Commerce, both of which I do not seeing doing anything because I do not see enough of their membership screaming bloody murder.

This problem must be solved before any wish list is established.

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#37186 - 06/06/14 10:50 AM Re: Whitney Waste Solutions: WAG bags, toilets, or ??? [Re: wbtravis]
Yury Offline


Registered: 06/11/11
Posts: 57
Loc: T.O.
Can somebody explain why previous discussions were so focused on solar toilets and llamas?
What are other options?
For example, why not to remove waste by helicopters?
Do you know how waste from Mt. Whitney summit toilet was removed?

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#37189 - 06/06/14 11:05 AM Re: Whitney Waste Solutions: WAG bags, toilets, or ??? [Re: wazzu]
Steve Chamberlin Offline


Registered: 06/17/11
Posts: 55
Loc: California
While not a permanent solution, I think a good step forward would be a refundable deposit fee for WAG bags, similar to the deposit on cans and bottles. This wouldn't address the sanitary concerns, but it would help reduce the eyesore of bags left abandoned by the trailside. Some people would still litter, but others who didn't mind the yuck factor would pack out a few extra bags and help keep the trail clean in return for getting the deposit fees.

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#37193 - 06/06/14 11:50 AM Re: Whitney Waste Solutions: WAG bags, toilets, or ??? [Re: Yury]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7131
Loc: Fresno, CA
Originally Posted By: Yury
Can somebody explain why previous discussions were so focused on solar toilets and llamas?
What are other options?
For example, why not to remove waste by helicopters?
Do you know how waste from Mt. Whitney summit toilet was removed?

Yury, solar and llamas are a proven solution at Rocky Mountain National Park. That solution has worked for decades, with weekly trips to remove the semi-dried waste. The presentation of that solution is documented here:   Exit Strategies Conference 2010 - Managing Human Waste in the Wild, specifically in the presentation by Joe Arnold, engineer at Rocky Mt NP:   Rocky Mountain National Park

The helicopter solution was used prior to the Whitney toilet removal, and deemed a failure by Inyo. They flew in/out twice a season, which meant managing an ever-growing bulk of waste for months. It exposed rangers repeatedly to the toilet mess.

The summit toilet itself was removed by helicopter, so I am assuming its contents were occasionally flown out in prior years.

Originally Posted By: Steve Chamberlin
While not a permanent solution, I think a good step forward would be a refundable deposit fee for WAG bags, similar to the deposit on cans and bottles. This wouldn't address the sanitary concerns, but it would help reduce the eyesore of bags left abandoned by the trailside. Some people would still litter, but others who didn't mind the yuck factor would pack out a few extra bags and help keep the trail clean in return for getting the deposit fees.

Steve, labeling WAG bags and WAG bag deposit/returns has been brought up repeatedly. It would certainly stop a lot of the bags being left along the trail, but I see several drawbacks:

1. It's still a WAG bag solution, something that I feel strongly is not a valid solution when there are better ones. Carrying a WAG bag is unpleasant and exposes thousands of hikers each year to bio-hazards.

2. The deposit/return idea would require a paid monitor to check-out and check-in the bags. Hikers come and go all 24 hours a day, so how and where would they access this WAG bag facility?

3. Since the WAG bag solution was not properly implemented, it is only a voluntary program. I don't think people can be forced to carry them, and certainly not forced to carry one with some identification attached.

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#37200 - 06/06/14 02:16 PM Re: Whitney Waste Solutions: WAG bags, toilets, or ??? [Re: Steve C]
Steve Chamberlin Offline


Registered: 06/17/11
Posts: 55
Loc: California
Yup, I agree those are problems, but not insurmountable ones.

1. Agreed, refundable deposit fees would help the eyesore problem but not the sanitation one. It's not a perfect or a permanent solution, but it would still be an improvement over the status quo, while work continued on something more permanent.

2. This is the biggest challenge. The easiest answer would be to return the bags to the ranger station in Lone Pine. If you can't make it there during normal hours, you don't get your deposit fee back, sorry. Very few bottle recycling stations are open 24 hours either. Or maybe an automated solution would be possible with some kind of scanner to dumpster machine.

3. True, but I don't see this as a big concern. I wasn't thinking that the bags would have any kind of identification attached - in fact it's important that hikers be able to return anybody's bags and get the deposit fees to encourage clean-up. If a few people refuse to even carry WAG bags, that's a problem, but it's no worse than things already are.

I'm not arguing against some kind of toilet solution (llama or solar or otherwise), but that feels difficult to reach and probably years in the future. Why not try to improve the situation in the meantime, with a change that could be put into practice right now?

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#37204 - 06/06/14 05:46 PM Re: Whitney Waste Solutions: WAG bags, toilets, or ??? [Re: Steve Chamberlin]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1239
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
Originally Posted By: Steve Chamberlin
While not a permanent solution, I think a good step forward would be a refundable deposit fee for WAG bags, similar to the deposit on cans and bottles.


The deposit would have to be high enough to get 99.9% compliance. In my mind that makes somewhere in the neighborhood a few hundred dollars. That will never happen.

Next, when you walk off the trail at 9 PM and want to get in your car and head to beautiful downtown Fontana, who is going to be there to check in your WAG Bag? The visitors centers and ranger stations are manned mostly by volunteers throughout this country. I cannot see the forest service leaving someone in the visitor center 24/7 during the quota season, let alone during the rest of the year.

If some drags them down, they collect the deposit. This would call for a deposit that would motivate someone to put "hazardous waste" in their pack.

But it all goes back to points 1 and 2.

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#37206 - 06/06/14 06:29 PM Re: Whitney Waste Solutions: WAG bags, toilets, or ??? [Re: wbtravis]
SierraNevada Offline


Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 1063
Loc: NorCal
There's no perfect solution, so any proposal can be easily criticized. Rather, let's build on ideas no matter how crazy they might seem, you never know where it will go. That's the spirit of brainstorming.

If you made it this far and you're not overwhelmed with information, check out this website - really good background information:

Remote Waste Management, US Forest Service, Technology and Development Program, 1995

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#37227 - 06/07/14 09:05 AM Re: Whitney Waste Solutions: WAG bags, toilets, or ??? [Re: Steve Chamberlin]
SierraNevada Offline


Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 1063
Loc: NorCal
Originally Posted By: Steve Chamberlin
While not a permanent solution, I think a good step forward would be a refundable deposit fee for WAG bags, similar to the deposit on cans and bottles. This wouldn't address the sanitary concerns, but it would help reduce the eyesore of bags left abandoned by the trailside. Some people would still litter, but others who didn't mind the yuck factor would pack out a few extra bags and help keep the trail clean in return for getting the deposit fees.

In the spirit of building on ideas, there could be a bar code scanner at the trailhead as you deposit the bag into the dumpster. You could have a pin number so they know who is returning the bag.

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#37239 - 06/08/14 09:35 AM Re: Whitney Waste Solutions: WAG bags, toilets, or ??? [Re: SierraNevada]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1239
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
Brainstorming requires a proposal and response. Something that response is negative, sometimes it is positive. This proposal has been hashed out over the years and has been found by most to be unworkable...for the reasons both Steve and I stated.

Crazy does not get things done here. We are dealing with an trenched bureaucracy that will want a solution that does not make them uncomfortable. They are obviously comfortable with the WAG bag option.

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#37242 - 06/08/14 09:50 AM Re: Whitney Waste Solutions: WAG bags, toilets, or ??? [Re: SierraNevada]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1239
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
SN,

Recently, there was a big stink about the gate being closed at Forest Falls-Vivian Creek Trailhead between 10 PM and 6 AM. The proposed solution to this problem by hikers was the purchase by a government entity strapped for cash an automated gate system with a PIN or giving permit holders key to the lock. The ultimate solution to this problem was the season changing and the caretaker leaving.

You are asking a government entity that high dependent on volunteers to do the work paid people should be doing to invest in technology for a problem they do not consider a problem.

Again, you need someone with political juice and workable solution for hikers and forest service. If you do not have the former having the latter is meaningless. You need to give the Sierra Club, as an example, a reason to champion your cause.

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#37244 - 06/08/14 11:42 AM Re: Whitney Waste Solutions: WAG bags, toilets, or ??? [Re: wbtravis]
Bee Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1261
Loc: Northern California
Originally Posted By: wbtravis


You are asking a government entity that high dependent on volunteers to do the work paid people should be doing to invest in technology for a problem they do not consider a problem.

Again, you need someone with political juice and workable solution for hikers and forest service. If you do not have the former having the latter is meaningless. You need to give the Sierra Club, as an example, a reason to champion your cause.



These two statements illustrate the situation quite well, simply put, and it shows a firm understanding of the "what's in it for me" mentality that permeates all strata of this society.

One must understand the system -- and its limitations -- that must be navigated in terms of initiating change.....dreaded change.

Crazy ideas that do not consider the obstacles are just that: Crazy. They only demonstrate a lack of understanding of the system at hand, and again, the limitations of that sytem (finances/personell/litigation -- you name it). Not positive enough? No smiley face? (queue up the song High Hopes and visualize those little ants) It's called reality.
_________________________
The body betrays and the weather conspires, hopefully, not on the same day.

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#37249 - 06/08/14 09:18 PM Re: Whitney Waste Solutions: WAG bags, toilets, or ??? [Re: Bee]
Akichow Offline


Registered: 04/07/10
Posts: 659
Loc: SF Bay Area
Seriously, here is my proposal. And my last post on this thread.

Keep the wag bags. And support their use by encouraging folks to use them and dispose of them properly. This board could be a powerful tool, if it chose to be so, to encourage responsible behavior viz the wag bags.

Just take this as a reminder that some of us (possibly even a silent majority?) don't find the wag bags a pain but instead a reasonable solution and therefore are not really into this topic.

Happy trails.

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#37250 - 06/08/14 10:22 PM Re: Whitney Waste Solutions: WAG bags, toilets, or ??? [Re: wbtravis]
SierraNevada Offline


Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 1063
Loc: NorCal
Originally Posted By: wbtravis
You need to give the Sierra Club, as an example, a reason to champion your cause.

It's not "my cause" it goes way back before I ever got involved. I simply tried to piece the puzzle together and explain the environmental process that was aborted. Looks like the Torching Toilet video filled in the rest. I posted technical information about the viability of toilets. So that hardly qualifies as my cause.

BTW, I'm not really in favor of bar code scanners, just respectfully building on someone's idea. Brainstorming is a process that gathers ideas without judging them. Evaluating those ideas is a separate process.

In that same spirit, I support your idea to convince an environmental group there's a better solution than WAG bags. That would be very helpful, but it's probably not very likely to happen. Again, evaluating the idea should come later, it's a good idea.



Edited by SierraNevada (06/08/14 10:48 PM)

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#37255 - 06/09/14 02:29 AM Re: Whitney Waste Solutions: WAG bags, toilets, or ??? [Re: SierraNevada]
Bee Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1261
Loc: Northern California
Originally Posted By: SierraNevada
Brainstorming is a process that gathers ideas without judging them. Evaluating those ideas is a separate process.


I guess we like the abbreviated method at our morning round tables (at work). Ideas are put on the table and evaluated at the same time. Impractical ideas are recognised immediately, and tossed in favour of devoting time to viable options. We don't have time to worry about hurt feelings; a nonviable option is canned in the beginning to allow precious time to be devoted to realistic options.

Anyhow, I am not enough of a diplomat to continue on this vein, so I will leave it in the hands of those far more enlightened.
_________________________
The body betrays and the weather conspires, hopefully, not on the same day.

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