Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags

Posted by: SierraNevada

Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/10/11 01:58 PM

Okay, this topic is not as glamorous as reviewing new gear or epic trail reports, but everyone seems to have an opinion about carrying Waste Accumulation and Gel (WAG) bags up and down Mt Whitney. This thread will give some background info, share some info, and open up discussion on a sensitive subject.

For background info, there are 2 essential reports that explain a lot.

1) Inyo NF "Environment Assessment (EA) - Mt Whitney Human Waste Management" Jan 2004.

This 50-page EA is step one in the NEPA process, the way federal projects must be reviewed per Nat Env Protection Act. This EA describes all practical solutions for replacing the toilets including the "do nothing" alternative. Step two in the NEPA process is to publish a decision document for public review that explains why the preferred alternative was selected. In this case, no decision document was published, therefore there was no public review. Instead, the former Inyo director (he's gone now) issued a 1-page memo instituting the wag bag policy. The EA report is no longer on the Inyo website. I have a copy if someone is interested. Perhaps this public domain document can be uploaded somewhere.

2.) Second report is, "Performance Evaluation of Backcountry Solar Toilets," by Joe Arnold, Rocky Mtn NP Engineer, dated Jan 2010.

http://www.americanalpineclub.org/uploads/mce_uploads/Files/PDF/Solar_Toilet_Report.pdf

This excellent 21-page report describes 27 years of success with their solar toilets on Long Peak. This location is very similar to Mt Whitney in terms of elevation and high visitor use. The report includes engineered drawings and cost estimates. This report demonstrates that solar toilets are a viable alternative at Mt. Whitney, which some people argue about because the old design was so crappy (pun intended).

In my opinion, wag bags are not the best solution to this problem at Mt Whitney. I'm sympathetic to the heroic efforts of the Rangers trying to keep the old toilets going. Any backcountry toilet needs regular maintenance but it must have been terrible work due to the bad design of the old system. Rangers have more important things to do and the maintenance should have been contracted out like at Long's Peak. There are places where only a wag bag makes sense, but on Mt Whitney they have the option of toilets. With the heavy use involved, I think toilets would have been the best option. Wag bags are the easiest and cheapest for Inyo, but are they really the best overall solution?

Posted by: Bee

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/10/11 03:01 PM

I have been following your discussion with Ken on this topic over here and have found some of the points to be very interesting.

If the technology works, clean-up is "a breeze", and the solar toilets can handle the "load", than I would certainly rather not see the mess of wag bags strewn about.
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/10/11 03:18 PM

They require regular maintenance, which is a key to any successful backcountry system. I wouldn't consider any system that handles this many people to be a "breeze" including picking up wag bags left behind on the trail and in bushes. They use 2 llamas on a weekly basis at Long's Peak. Yosemite uses mules for their maintenance.

If you've ever used the modern solar toilets at Yosemite's Nevada Falls, or Little Yosemite Valley, or the Grand Canyon (or at some other modern design) you know this system can work very well. It's more challenging at higher elevation, but it can be done successfully.
Posted by: Bee

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/10/11 03:50 PM

I should clarify what I meant by "a breeze" -- meaning that the waste is fully composted, so that there is no excessive odor when handling the maintenance procedures.
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/10/11 04:30 PM

Originally Posted By: Bee
I should clarify what I meant by "a breeze" -- meaning that the waste is fully composted, so that there is no excessive odor when handling the maintenance procedures.


The people maintaining modern solar toilets could give you the best answer to your question. I happened upon the Nevada Falls toilet being maintained once. He showed me the system and what he had to do. The worker (a contract employee) seemed fine with it and I didn't notice any objectionable smell. Rangers have more important things to do. I think a lot of the objection to toilets came from their bad experience with an obsolete design that wasn't working.
Posted by: wbtravis

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/11/11 05:41 AM

I know the MMWT is not a wilderness experience but it should not be a WAG bag tour either. I've only been up there twice since the solar latrines were removed, the first time was in May 2007, so that doesn't count, the last time was September 2009 and there were a dozen bags left along the trail between the summit and Whitney Portal. My guess is for each one of these there were 10 hidden gems.

I have spoken to and have had email correspondence with Garry Oye, who was the prime mover in having the solar latrine taken out along the MMWT. I think the overwhelming reason they are no longer there is he did not want structures in a wilderness area. I have spoken to a few people knowledgeable in how solar latrines work and the consensus was solar latrines were not practical in this climate...they did not compost at a rate that kept up with those using them. Another reason, a specious reason in my mind, was that Mr. Oye did not want his employees and volunteers near these hazardous waste sites.
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/11/11 10:20 AM

It would have been nice for Mr Oye to complete the NEPA process that was started with the EA report describe above. The NEPA process is where all of these issues could've been debated in the usual structured framework with public review. His 1-page memo instituting his policy makes it harder to garner public support for WAG bags and generally undermines his decision, in my opinion. I hear Mr Oye is back in Washington now.

Please read the report linked above that demonstrates 27 years of successful performance of a solar toilet system at 12,760 ft on Long's Peak, a 14'er in Colorado Rocky Mtn NP with similar heavy use as Whitney. This is higher elevation and higher latitude than Trail Camp. There is no question that a modern solar toilet system is practical and could be a success at Whitney. Perhaps Mr Oye was not provided accurate information, which is another reason why he should have completed NEPA to get a 360deg perspective.

Maintenance could and I think should be contracted out to free up Ranger's time, as is done by the National Park Service. The term "hazardous waste sites" makes toilets sound like a nuclear site. Human waste is dealt with by thousands of people across the country every day. The guys pumping out porta potties are not wearing space suits, but it does require special handling. Composted waste is much less objectionable and the volume and weight is greatly reduced.

Here's a link to a funny website with dozens (or hundreds?) of outdoor latrines in National Parks and Forests. If you scroll down several pages of photos, you see 30 "scenic" toilets along the JMT. Backcountry toilets are appropriate and commonly used for high impact areas. With 200 people on the trail on any given day, I think people appreciate a toilet system and are willing to accept the compromise on a tiny portion of the 22 mile trail. They were there on Whitney for decades. If they had only been of better design...

http://wildernessvagabond.com/scenictoilets/scenictoilets.htm


Posted by: Steve C

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/11/11 09:18 PM

The Scenic Toilets of Inner Earth page is missing the Mt Whitney summit toilet pictures.

I used a Google images search (Whitney summit toilet) and came up with these:
From BrianRxm - Sierra Nevada Peaks, Mount Whitney:
(Page no longer exists)
I believe the walls were destroyed by vandals in 1978.


This from SummitPost: Whitney Summit

Caption: Craig on the infamous toilet at the summit of Whitney, with a nice view of Williamson to the left. Here one can have the opportunity to take the highest shit in the lower 48 wink Just imagine, for first time climbers of Whitney who come up the Mountaineer's route, the first thing you could see on the summit after topping out from the class 3 is this!!   This thing doesn't exist anymore.


From Climbing the "Mountaineer's Route" On Mt Whitney
(Page no longer exists)
07-SEP-2004   The highest toilet in the continental USA! (Has since been removed)


Harvey Lankford's picture of the remains of the toilet being carried away:
link
(keywords: Whitney summit toilet removed helicopter )
Posted by: Fishmonger

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/12/11 03:49 AM

not the best shot, but you see the 1988 summit toilet in the far right - it had some sort of wood fence around it, with open view to the west



Solar toilet at Trial Camp in 1989

Posted by: dbd

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/12/11 05:56 AM

Originally Posted By: Fishmonger
not the best shot, but you see the 1988 summit toilet in the far right - it had some sort of wood fence around it, with open view to the west...

That's the greeters chair for the mountaineer's route.

Dale B. Dalrymple
Posted by: Ken

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/12/11 07:19 AM

SierraNevada, the one without the guts to post under their name, although claiming expertise as a "professional" engineer, I'm calling you out.

You repeatedly claim that the USFS failed to follow the process of environmental impact assessment, but do not provide ANY substantiation of your position, just repeated blather.

Same as duplicating this thread from the other Whitney board, but doing so under ANOTHER pseudonym, without bothering to mention you are doing so. Blather.

Or....trolling.....

Done responding to your stuff.
Posted by: Steve C

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/12/11 07:34 AM

I invited him to post the thread here, since threads on the topic have been deleted in the past from the other forum.

It seems reasonable to ask why the environmental assessment process was circumvented.
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/12/11 03:46 PM

SierraNevada, the one without the guts to post under their name, although claiming expertise as a "professional" engineer, I'm calling you out.

Ken,
I'm going to rise above this name calling and assume you are bigger than that. If we separate fact from opinion, I think we can continue a vigorous discussion and keep it civil. I hope so because I value your experience and your concern for all things Whitney.

You repeatedly claim that the USFS failed to follow the process of environmental impact assessment, but do not provide ANY substantiation of your position, just repeated blather.

Simple question, where are the documents completing the Environmental Assessment (EA) per NEPA? The EA is not complete and it vanished from the internet. If you have a link to it, let us know. There are 2 ways the EA could have been completed. Has either of these paths been completed?

1)A Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) together with an official decision document meeting NEPA protocol.
2)A full blown EIS

I highlighted where the process stalled out (as far as I can tell) in this flow chart:



Source:
Citizens Guide to NEPA
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/13/11 03:58 PM

The Solar Toilet thread on the Whitney Portal Store Forum seems to have vanished today. This happened a few year again just when the discussion focused on how Inyo pursued environmental compliance for their decision to go with Alternative 5 - Wag Bags.

Since this issue is striking such a raw nerve, and since there is no proper documentation forthcoming, and since the starting documents have vanished from the internet, I'm getting the impression they really didn't follow environmental law when they initiated their policy. Any one else getting that sense?
Posted by: dbd

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/13/11 07:16 PM

Originally Posted By: SierraNevada

...
Since this issue is striking such a raw nerve, and since there is no proper documentation forthcoming, and since the starting documents have vanished from the internet, I'm getting the impression they really didn't follow environmental law when they initiated their policy. Any one else getting that sense?


You presume that there was a reason to bring the NEPA process to a completion. Such actions can be withdrawn when there is no longer any party proposing to implement an action requiring a NEPA process.

I don't think that removing a disfunctional sewage system requires a NEPA process. I don't think that requiring the minimum possible method to implement an environmental protection required by law necessitates the NEPA process.

Someday, if someone successfully lobbies Congress for funding, staffing and direction or otherwise authorizes and funds a design for a replacement sewage process for the Mt Whitney corridor of the John Muir Wilderness, a NEPA process will be appropriate. Until then, no one is wasting the money, no one should be.

Dale B. Dalrymple
Posted by: Bee

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/13/11 07:46 PM

Originally Posted By: SierraNevada
The Solar Toilet thread on the Whitney Portal Store Forum seems to have vanished today. This happened a few year again just when the discussion focused on how Inyo pursued environmental compliance for their decision to go with Alternative 5 - Wag Bags.


I do not believe that there was anything focused about that (original) thread, rather, it had turned into a 6 page rant about....toilets. I do believe that if one truly wants to get something done, then addressing the issue in the proper venue is the way to go. Pages upon pages of "opinion" on a message board was not the route to take, as the WPSMB was probably meant as a forum for friendly exchange of beta, ideas, photos, etc., and more specifically, to promote the facilities that the board is named for. It is/was not exactly the most "refreshing" topic to lead off with when one is trying to run a business, so for that, I do not blame Doug, Sr., a bit for removing the well trodden, bordering on overtrodden rant about toilets -- no conspiracy in that.
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/13/11 08:12 PM

Originally Posted By: dbd

You presume that there was a reason to bring the NEPA process to a completion. Such actions can be withdrawn when there is no longer any party proposing to implement an action requiring a NEPA process.


I would agree if they didn't actually do anything. What they did was implement Alternative 5 of the Environmental Assessment. That alternative (wag bags) had potential impacts identified. It's not normal to implement any alternative in any EA without completing the process.

The idea of NEPA is to engage the public in the decision making. That didn't seem to happen.
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/13/11 08:18 PM

Originally Posted By: Bee
I do not blame Doug, Sr., a bit for removing the well trodden, boardering on overtrodden rant about toilets -- no conspiracy in that.

Solar Toilets was the 2nd "hottest" thread on that board when it was zapped, behind some interesting AMS discussion. I agree it's not glamorous stuff, but wag bags affect everyone who hikes the trail.

I guess it was just a coincidence it happened again as the discussion began discussing environmental compliance.
Posted by: dbd

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/14/11 06:11 AM

Originally Posted By: SierraNevada
...
Solar Toilets was the 2nd "hottest" thread on that board when it was zapped, behind some interesting AMS discussion. ...

There is a difference between quality and quantity.
Quote:
I guess it was just a coincidence it happened again as the discussion began discussing environmental compliance.

No coincidence. Just the point where irresposible posters began the conspiracy theory innuendo.

Dale B. Dalrymple
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/14/11 06:46 AM

Everyone is entitled to their opinion about quality, but these threads have (or had) a lot of links to reports, photos, and other information. Over 300 views in less than 4 days here on this board. I think people are interested because this issue affects them very directly.

What keeps you coming back?
Posted by: Fishmonger

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/14/11 07:18 AM


Here's a somewhat realted question: will there be wag bags available in the large rubbermaid bin at Crabtree Meadows in mid October when I am coming in from Yosemite? If not, do I break the law by not using one, or do I have to pack one for 200 miles to make sure I comply?
Posted by: dbd

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/15/11 05:33 AM

Originally Posted By: Fishmonger

Here's a somewhat realted question: will there be wag bags available in the large rubbermaid bin at Crabtree Meadows in mid October when I am coming in from Yosemite?...


You bring up an interesting time of year. By mid-October solar toilets would be cleaned out and closed for the winter, so everyone in the Whitney Zone would be using wag bags until the next June or July when the weather gets warm enough for the winter's spindrift to be removed from the toilets and for evaporation to keep up with usage.

Dale B. Dalrymple
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/15/11 09:47 AM

If new solar toilets were installed, the availability would probably be just like it was for the 30 some yrs that the old ones were in operation. A modern design can easily hold the small use that occurs in the early and late season. Actual composting and evaporation would then catch up in the warm months exactly when the use also picks up. For the few hearty climbers in the winter, this would be like any other place in the Sierras, you have to pack it out, the toilets might be buried in snow. No different than anywhere else.
Posted by: dbd

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/16/11 08:30 AM

Originally Posted By: SierraNevada
If new solar toilets were installed, the availability would probably be just like it was for the 30 some yrs that the old ones were in operation.

These are the toilets you told us were defective and didn't work. Were you mistaken then or now?
Quote:
A modern design can easily hold the small use that occurs in the early and late season.

Is there new design you have not yet revealed? You have presented a design you claim works at a similar location. Let's look at what you have given us as the facts. The design used on Long's Peak must be closed to prevent mechanical damage in the winter and can't be successfully sealed against snow. It needs maintenance to remove the snow block before use begins in the summer.
Quote:
Actual composting and evaporation would then catch up in the warm months exactly when the use also picks up.

The Longs Peak ranger reports that false expectations like this have lead to vandalism problems when the design limitations have forced winter closure.
Quote:
For the few hearty climbers in the winter, this would be like any other place in the Sierras, you have to pack it out, the toilets might be buried in snow. No different than anywhere else.

"any other place in the Sierra" without Whitney's concentration of use doesn't require you to pack it out.

Dale B. Dalrymple
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/16/11 12:16 PM

I'm referring to AVAILABILITY of the toilets, not FUNCTIONALITY. Even a defective toilet is "available" as a simple holding tank even in cold weather. The composting and evaporation may not function effectively in late fall or early spring, but there should be no technical reason to close toilets except if snow is blocking the door. Once that happens, or if the Rangers decide to close them for the season, then the area is just like any other winter place in the Sierra without toilets. All they have to do is let people know the toilets are closed so they don't count on them. They could also leave a box of wag bags near the toilets for emergency use or for people that prefer them over a toilet. Keep everybody happy.

I never promised to provide a new toilet design for Mt Whitney. The Long's Peak report linked to above has engineered plans and actual costs for you. Hopefully that will convince you there is at least one such design that actually does work. Phoenix toilets has other designs that are all over the national park system. The main adjustment for high elevation is building a well-insulated holding tank compartment and using the best materials. This is not rocket science.

You can point out the challenges they have overcome at Long's Peak mentioned in the assessment report, but the fact of the matter is the system is a success, the Park Engineer is happy, the hikers are happy, and the Rangers do not have to do the maintenance work so they are assumed to be happy as well.
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/22/11 03:46 PM

Here's a link to the Environmental Assessment Report described above in the opening post of this thread. This excellent 50-page report is a great read on the history of the waste management issue back in 2004 when they intended to replace the toilets. This report was on the Inyo website, but it's no longer available anywhere else on the internet that I can find. It's a public document that should be publicly available since this issue is technically still open because they haven't completed the NEPA process yet with a Findings of No Significant Impact (FONSI) coupled with a NEPA Decision Document. Or they could finish it with an Environmental Impact Statement (a very expensive and time consuming option).

Environmental Assessment - Mt Whitney Waste Management

Here's a link to the memo that implemented the wag bag policy, which is basically Alternative 5 in the EA Report above.

Memo Implementing Wag Bags

The 2006 memo has some of the elements of a decision document, but it falls short of the legal requirements, described nicely in

Citizen's Guide to NEPA

Most notably, there is no reference to a FONSI, and there is no explanation of how public comments were considered. The memo mentions a 2005 survey taken by a Michigan college student when the wag bags were tried on a volunteer basis. Anyone seen that student study? Perhaps that's their attempt at public input?
Posted by: Chris B

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/23/11 01:14 PM

Sierra,

I think it's a noble cause to look out for the best interest(s) of the environment and hikers in the Whitney area. That said, I think by now you should have realized this is not the correct venue to cause change. This forum has many passionate Whitney enthusiasts and hikers, but clearly no one with administrative power is here to listen to your complaints. I would suggest pursuing the proper channels to try and effect change.

While this is a most valid topic of discussion (I was shocked at my trip in mid-July to see so many WAG bags along the trail), posting opinion on a message board will not bring about change.

If you harbor concerns regarding the Federal process, I would highly suggest taking those to the appropriate officials, not a message board.

Additionally, if you truly stand behind every word you've stated, you would give much more credibility to your cause and voice by being honest with your identity, not hiding behind a screen name.

Though I post infrequently, I have been an avid lurker on these boards for some time, and your appearance and discussion of WAG bags has become more bothersome than informative or thought-provoking.

-Chris
Posted by: Tomcat_rc

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/23/11 01:42 PM

Originally Posted By: Chris B
Sierra,

Though I post infrequently, I have been an avid lurker on these boards for some time, and your appearance and discussion of WAG bags has become more bothersome than informative or thought-provoking.

-Chris


Interesting opinion. I thought he did a respectable job of trying to get the information out despite continued personeal attacks. I for one am glad that someone is willing to discuss what to me is an obvious flawed sollution.
Posted by: wbtravis

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/23/11 02:01 PM

Chris,

Do not discount the administrative factor. Folks from the Inyo lurk here just like you.

Many here wrote the Inyo during the comment period to state our concerns about a WAG bag program in this corridor. It really did not make much of difference because the forest manager was hellbent on taking out the two solar latrines.

Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/23/11 02:11 PM

Originally Posted By: Chris B
this is not the correct venue to cause change.
Agree, the purpose of this thread is stated right up front, post #1, "This thread will give some background info, share some info, and open up discussion on a sensitive subject."

Originally Posted By: Chris B
I would suggest pursuing the proper channels to try and effect change.
I have been discussing this through the proper channels at Inyo NF. They are still figuring out what happened and looking for documents.

Originally Posted By: Chris B
I was shocked at my trip in mid-July to see so many WAG bags along the trail
Seems to be a common impact, which might explain the interest in this otherwise mundane topic.

Originally Posted By: Chris B
Additionally, if you truly stand behind every word you've stated, you would give much more credibility to your cause and voice by being honest with your identity, not hiding behind a screen name.
Don't shoot the messenger. Like most everybody, yourself included, I choose to exercise my right to privacy here.

Originally Posted By: Chris B
Though I post infrequently, I have been an avid lurker on these boards for some time, and your appearance and discussion of WAG bags has become more bothersome than informative or thought-provoking.
Thanks for making the transition and posting your opinion, whatever it is. Maybe we can get public opinion back into the decision making process on this controversial issue?
Posted by: + @ti2d

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/23/11 02:20 PM

Sierra Nevada...

During my military career, I have worked with the folks in the Environmental Security and have read Environmental Assessments and Environmental Impact Reports. A lot of work went into producing these documents.

My hat is off to you bringing this to the attention of the public.
Posted by: Chris B

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/23/11 02:33 PM

Originally Posted By: SierraNevada
Originally Posted By: Chris B
this is not the correct venue to cause change.
Agree, the purpose of this thread is stated right up front, post #1, "This thread will give some background info, share some info, and open up discussion on a sensitive subject."

Originally Posted By: Chris B
I would suggest pursuing the proper channels to try and effect change.
I have been discussing this through the proper channels at Inyo NF. They are still figuring out what happened and looking for documents.

Originally Posted By: Chris B
I was shocked at my trip in mid-July to see so many WAG bags along the trail
Seems to be a common impact, which might explain the interest in this otherwise mundane topic.

Originally Posted By: Chris B
Additionally, if you truly stand behind every word you've stated, you would give much more credibility to your cause and voice by being honest with your identity, not hiding behind a screen name.
Don't shoot the messenger. Like most everybody, yourself included, I choose to exercise my right to privacy here.

Originally Posted By: Chris B
Though I post infrequently, I have been an avid lurker on these boards for some time, and your appearance and discussion of WAG bags has become more bothersome than informative or thought-provoking.
Thanks for making the transition and posting your opinion, whatever it is. Maybe we can get public opinion back into the decision making process on this controversial issue?


I guess it's somewhat hot-button for me to see people complain on public forums. As someone still in my 20s, I've grown with the digital age and I see far too many people using the internet to complain, and not taking proper courses of action. Forums are especially common for this type of behavior, due to anonymity and ease of access. Spreading awareness is one thing. Arguing the point to those that question facts and can't do anything to change the sitation seems pointless in light of your audience.

If Inyo personnel lurk, that's great and I'm sure very insightful to the experiences of Whitney hikers. However, they possess the same anonymity, and are no more likely to attempt change than if they never saw the thread. That's why more direct accountability needs to be established.

I would gladly support an alternative to the WAG problem, if it was truly beneficial, meaning no additional strain on staff or finances. My opinion is the WAG issue is a problem, but not necessarily one with a clear-cut and easy response. At the end of the day, though, regardless of whether they go with toilets or bags, people will continue to be irresponsible with the gifts we've been given.
Posted by: CaT

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/24/11 06:01 PM

The interesting thing about social media (including message boards) is that you never know who's going to read something, and whether that person might know someone who knows someone who, in turn, knows someone else, who then may very well may the person who is able to make a difference in whatever is the problem/issue that is being discussed, in this case waste disposal solutions in the Whitney Zone. I would not be so quick to discount message boards.

CaT
Posted by: Bee

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/24/11 06:16 PM

Originally Posted By: SierraNevada
the purpose of this thread is stated right up front, post #1, "This thread will give some background info, share some info, and open up discussion on a sensitive subject."


I believe that the purpose has been met.

Originally Posted By: Chris B
I would suggest pursuing the proper channels to try and effect change.


I could not agree more: We hear you, we hear you -- here, there, and everywhere. We agree! The current situation is not working, so where do we go from here? I believe that the complaints have registered, so now what is the best course of action to effect change?


Posted by: Steve C

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/24/11 08:43 PM

People, please be patient. Pursuing matters through the proper channels takes some time. I am sure SierraNevada will post more info as it becomes available.

In the meantime, posting opinions that have been repeated before serves no purpose but to grind this topic into the dirt.

New information is always welcome.
Posted by: Bee

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/24/11 08:50 PM

Originally Posted By: Steve C

In the meantime, posting opinions that have been repeated before serves no purpose but to grind this topic into the dirt.

New information is always welcome.


Enough opinions -- agreed. Moving the topic past "discussing the need for action"(complaining) to "action" -- even more agreement.
Posted by: George

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/26/11 08:25 PM

An excellent report from Rocky but I have to say I'm not convinced the same system will work on the Whitney corridor. The key to the Rocky report seems to be weekly (!) maintenance and hauling out the solids. The USFS has a very poor record of being able to maintain anything in a remote wilderness setting. Not their fault, mostly. A combination of budget constraints and commitment.

The original Whitney toilets seems to have failed because of poor design and infrequent maintenance. The two that were built could, literally, be smelled 1/4 mile away on a bad day. I believe construction and maintenance exceeded $50,000 at least. That kind of money just doesn't exist for federal agencies anymore. Poor maintenance required that 50 gal. drums of human waste were stored nearby until they could be hauled out.

This isn't to say that, under ideal conditions (careful engineering and a guaranteed budget for, say 10 years) a system similar to Rocky couldn't be built... . I just doubt it could be maintained. As tight as budgets are for NPS, they're far worse for USFS (Inyo/Whitney corridor). To me, it's not worth taking the risk of another expensive failure.

How much of that money could otherwise be used to hire a ranger and llama, say, to pick up the abandoned wag bags?? Much more efficient use of the money and likely cheaper.

George
Posted by: dbd

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/27/11 01:18 PM

Originally Posted By: George
An excellent report from Rocky but I have to say I'm not convinced the same system will work on the Whitney corridor. The key to the Rocky report seems to be weekly (!) maintenance and hauling out the solids. The USFS has a very poor record of being able to maintain anything in a remote wilderness setting. Not their fault, mostly. A combination of budget constraints and commitment.
...
George


Rocky Mountain NP has a different knowledge and experience base than the Inyo NF. RMNP supports 73 backcountry campsites with privies. (Two of the four solar seats support Boulderfield camp site, the other two are along trails.) They also have 200 permanent and 272 seasonal employees and 1699 volunteers (102,240 hours). That's a different base of support. That doesn't make solar toilets impossible for Inyo, but it means that it will take a lot of careful creative thought to deal with the hurdles of definition, authorization, funding, acquisition, staffing, construction and operation. The process of dealing concretely with these hurdles seems negative compared to wishful thinking, but it is necessary to deal with them all to accomplish something. The process would also make it easier to identify and evaluate useful alternatives.

Dale B. Dalrymple
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 09/27/11 02:55 PM

Originally Posted By: George
The key to the Rocky report seems to be weekly (!) maintenance and hauling out the solids.

Yes, and that's why the NPS contracts out their backcountry toilet maintenance. I think this is a key success factor for them. I think everyone would agree we need Rangers doing more important stuff, and by the way - thanks for your service, George! It's not necessary to haul out wastes that frequently, just that the contractor chooses to do it that way. Could be twice per year instead. But weekly attention to the toilet system by a trained individual is a key to success.

Originally Posted By: George
I believe construction and maintenance exceeded $50,000 at least.

Reservation fees are netting at least $250,000 per year with 17,000 actual hikers x $15/hiker (plus no shows). The regs authorizing such fees are intended to put money back into the "facility" with limits on overhead costs. Wag bags cost money too, and it costs again to get rid of tons of full ones, and don't forget about all the plastic and chemicals involved.

Originally Posted By: George
This isn't to say that, under ideal conditions (careful engineering and a guaranteed budget for, say 10 years) a system similar to Rocky couldn't be built... . I just doubt it could be maintained.
George

If a contract employee is doing the maintenance, and the design is good to begin with, I think its a workable solution.

Nothing to report yet from discussions with Inyo, but it has been elevated to management and they seem to have an open mind. I have not sensed the zealousness that has been reported about the former District Ranger Oye. Time will tell. Please be patient, they are very busy and understaffed, as George described.
Posted by: AsABat

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 10/12/11 08:47 AM

$50,000 shouldn't be a problem. Whitney is popular. Raise the fee $10, if 17,000 hikers is correct that's more than enough money to construct two crappers and have plenty of money for contracting the haul out.
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 10/17/11 06:49 PM

After talking with the Inyo Forest Supervisor Ed Armenta and Whitney District Ranger Margaret Wood, I realized they need some sort of push to get them to revisit this issue. They seem to realize they made a mistake in the NEPA process, but they aren't likely to dedicate resources to finish the Environmental Assessment on their own. I mentioned that I would be sending an appeal letter to get them to dedicate resources to this issue. They were not thrilled, but okay with it. Both the Forest Supervisor and District Ranger are new, so I think they will take a fresh look at this if they see enough interest in the issue. Steve reviewed the appeal letter and posted it on this website for you to sign and send in.

Think of the appeal letter as a petition letter. The more letters they get, the more serious they will take this. The letter reads somewhat legalistic by necessity. They have a couple technicalities they can use to dismiss it, but they can't ignore it, and it can be elevated if necessary. The important thing is for everyone interested to send in a copy to persuade them to finish the NEPA process and reconsider new toilets. At the very least, consider new toilets at Outpost Camp on a trial basis.

If you include a cover letter, realize these people did not make these decisions, but they are the ones who can make a change. So be polite and factual. If you submitted comments back in 2004, then we really need you - please post or PM me or Steve if you were involved in 2004.

The appeal letter is at:

http://www.whitneyzone.com/docs/misc/NEPA_Appeal_EA_to_InyoNF.pdf

For those of you pushing for action on this issue, here's your chance! Post or PM if you have questions or comments.
Posted by: Eugene K

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 10/18/11 03:47 PM

I wonder if they have solar toilets at the summit of Everest. If not, whether anyone ever tried to force Nepalese government to install and maintain them by threatening to sue.
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 10/18/11 04:23 PM

Yes Eugene, they have installed solar toilets at Everest base camp around 20,000 ft. Some worked well, some not so well, depending on the design. All materials get scavenged as soon as the parties leave the mountain, but there are success stories if you care to do some research.

Nobody is suing here, or even threatening to sue, and nobody is forcing anything. The appeal is asking Inyo to finish the Environmental Assessment like they were supposed to. They dropped the ball and its time to pick it back up. An appeal letter has a specific format and content that must be followed, which is by nature somewhat legalistic, but required. The real purpose is to get them to assign resources to finishing the process. Without some kind of pressure, it won't happen.

Ironically, they created a technical catch for themselves by not finishing the EA. There is a 45-day window to file an appeal once the decision document is published. Since they never published an official decision document, there is no official time to appeal. Again, the purpose is to get them to assign resources to this issue, not to force anything.
Posted by: Eugene K

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 10/18/11 05:15 PM

I'm not talking about base camp, though, I'm talking about the summit. You're proposing to build a toilet in a highly prominent spot and hire outside contractors who would be forced to hike 20 miles round trip at high altitude to service the toilet several times a year. (That, or we should pay for helicopter rides for them, and I'm not sure which option is better.)

You are trying to conflate two different issues. One, Inyo NF did not dot their i's and cross their t's when they made a decision to go with wag bags. All they need to do is hire some lawyers, spend a couple million dollars to do a proper EIS that quantifies damage done to environment by irresponsible hikers who choose to poop behind some rock or forget their used wag bags on the trail, and there is absolutely nothing in this process that would force them (nay, let them) to go with solar toilets instead.

Two, you are asking them to actually go back and restart the whole process by including Long Peak style solar toilets, which would cost even more because then they'd have to do a new EA.

The whole thing looks like a non-issue to me. I've accumulated a good cache of unopened wag bags by now, I think I have four or five. What's the big problem with just holding it in for 12 to 36 hours?
Posted by: Steve C

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 10/18/11 08:21 PM

Eugene K wrote:
> You're proposing to build a toilet in a highly prominent spot and hire outside contractors who would be forced to hike 20 miles round trip at high altitude to service the toilet several times a year

Eugene, that is quite a bit off the mark. Nobody is proposing a toilet anywhere. There is a suggestion that a trial system be set up at Outpost, but that is not even the main point. Rather, the process in 2004 was short-circuited, and the letter is just asking Inyo to complete the process.

Please look at the letter.
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 10/18/11 08:22 PM

Don't worry Eugene, nobody is going to force anyone to do a $2 million EIR and ride helicopters to the summit. I'm glad you think its a non-issue. Keep storing those wag bags, you might need one some day, or you might have a nice new toilet to use.
Posted by: Eugene K

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 10/18/11 08:57 PM

Originally Posted By: Steve C
Rather, the process in 2004 was short-circuited, and the letter is just asking Inyo to complete the process.

Please look at the letter.


I did look at the letter. Please point me where I go off the mark.

1. Solar toilets of Long Peak design (and the associated concept of using private contractors and llamas to remove solid waste) were not part of the original EA. The alternative 1 of the EA proposes toilets maintained by park rangers three times a week and solid waste removed by helicopter.

2. Therefore, choosing to build solar toilets of Long Peak design is not an allowed outcome under the federal law.

3. They can't reasonably file a FONSI because there is in fact an environmental impact due to the use of WAG bags.

4. Drafting an EIS is an enormously expensive undertaking that can easily cost the national forest office over a million dollars.

5. And completing that process would make absolutely no effect on the presence or absence of toilets on the mountain (except for the obvious problem that the forest would have a lot less money in in its budget to build them.)
Posted by: Rboone

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 10/19/11 05:57 AM

Originally Posted By: Eugene K
What's the big problem with just holding it in for 12 to 36 hours?

You can't be serious. How much enjoyment of the Whitneyzone can one have if forced to "hold it in for 12-36 hours" and deal with the discomfort. Altitude affects everyone differently, especially those with a touch of AMS, and holding it would be an impossibility. No thanks, no interest. This is totally unrealistic and apparently many agree.

Separately, when a friend and I hiked to the summit Oct. 2-3 we saw several used Wag Bags discarded along the trail. There were several left behind near our camp at Trail Camp and I saw two left behind on or near the summit. Yes, I realize the MT experiences high traffic and there will always be some noncompliant bad apples but even so I found the used Wag Bags left behind really irritating and it did dilute the experience somewhat. Twenty years ago when I hiked to the summit along the MT and when there were toilets I saw no trash/human waste left behind on or off trail.

Letter printed, signed, and mailed.
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 10/20/11 06:19 AM

Rboone, thanks for taking the time and effort to convert your concerns into action. Expect a courtesy but legalistic letter back from Inyo saying the appeal has been dismissed. Even if you submitted comments back in 2004, they can argue about the open period to file an appeal. Since they never published an official decision document there is no open filing period to file this appeal - normally 45 days after the DD is published. So they have a couple technicalities to fall back on, and that's fine. This situation is so bizarre I'm sure they don't want it formalized.

More importantly, I expect them to explain what they intend to do to rectify the situation as new managers working on this problem. Just think of this as a petition to get them focused and justify assigning resources on this.

Thanks for stepping up, maybe it will encourage others.
Posted by: CaT

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 10/20/11 05:24 PM

Originally Posted By: Eugene K
What's the big problem with just holding it in for 12 to 36 hours?

The big problem is that it's about as realistic as suggesting I hold my breath for the same amount of time. Regardless of altitude (this happens here in the lowlands of Ohio, too, I promise), when you have to go, you have to go, and additional hiking to arrive somewhere to do it, only makes the urge to go all the more acute (been there, done that many times, despite desparately trying to "hold it" for as long as possible -- usually don't even make it to 12 to 36 minutes, let alone 12 to 36 hours!).

CaT
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 10/24/11 06:10 PM

I started a new thread over on the MWPSMB Solar Toilets Better Than Wag Bags. My original post has been edited, the title changed, and links to documents have been deleted. If you're interested, go read it quickly because I'm sure the entire thread will be removed soon, which is what happened to two previous threads on this topic.

Here's the original post in it's entirety before it was butchered:

If you would like Inyo NF management to take a fresh look at reinstalling toilets at Outpost Camp and Trail Camp now is the time to get a little involved. If you're frustrated with seeing these bags full of human waste littering the trail then copy this letter, sign it, and send it to the Forest Supervisor Ed Armenta.

Mt Whitney Toilets Appeal Letter

How things got to this point is a long and interesting story. Most of it is explained in the letter. To summarize, there have been toilets of some kind on Mt Whitney for 50 years, starting with pit toilets and progressing to solar powered toilets. Unfortunately, they never got the design quite right, and the Rangers were burdened with maintaining a crappy system that was no better than a pit toilet. In about 2002 the toilets got so bad they launched a project to replace them. That involved drafting an Environmental Assessment, published in 2004 in accordance with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) procedures to make sure public comments were considered. The EA was very well done and they looked into 5 alternatives including the mandatory "do nothing." The preferred alternative was to replace the toilets. Alternative 5 was to implement a Packout Program which you are keenly aware of if you've hiked the trail since 2007.

There are 3 ways to complete the environmental review process for a project of this nature. 1) an EXEMPTION if its a "typical" noncontroversial routine project such as repaving a road. 2) prepare an ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT (EA) that describes all reasonable alternatives and potential impacts of each alternative and describes in detail the "preferred alternative." A 30-day comment period is required to accept public input. Public input is the main reason for all of this in the first place to make sure every citizen and agency who might be affected gets a chance to influence the decision. If the decision has no significant impacts, then a Finding of No Significant Impacts (FONSI) is prepared. There is another chance for public review at this point, but there are loopholes to avoid public input if it's a routine noncontroversial project. The last step is to publish a decision document to let everyone know what decision has been made, why it was made, and how the public comments were considered. or 3.) If there ARE significant impacts, then an ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT is required, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars (or millions) and take years to complete. An EIS is a big deal and you only see them on big projects. The 2004 EA for replacing the toilets can viewed here

Mt Whitney 2004 EA for Replacing Toilets

At this point in January 2004 things suddenly took a strange turn. When the EA notice was published in the newspaper, the preferred alternative was described as a Packout program (Alternative 5) instead of the preferred alternative (replace the toilets) described in the EA. What was really happening in the background was a zealous Ranger was convincing the District Ranger that wag bags would be the best solution. Now keep in mind the Rangers were forced to keep these badly designed toilets going which must have been a very crappy job. The District Ranger Garry Oye was a very ambitious fellow and together they made up their minds to "fix" this situation.

At this point in a project, product research is conducted. An engineer would call a lot of vendors who build and install wilderness toilets and get all the information available from other people facing this challenge and companies providing solutions. Why reinvent the wheel when someone has surely figured this out already? Only a few calls were placed and new toilets were somehow impossible. The largest manufacturer received one brief phone call. His company did so much business with the National Park Service they had a pre-approved government contract to quickly install a turnkey guaranteed solution. He received one brief phone call, no follow up.

Then nothing happened for 2 years and 11 months. Suddenly in December 2006 District Ranger Garry Oye released a very strange memo "To Those Interested in Mt Whitney Waste Management." The memo resembles a decision document, but it doesn't claim to be a decision document and it doesn't meet basic criteria for a decision document such as attaching the FONSI and describing how public comments were considered. It's really more of a PR notice. Most bizarre is the lack of a Finding of No Significant Impact. Read it for yourself here

Garry Oye Memo Implementing Wag Bags

This PR memo is the last Inyo NF document on this subject. So that's where the process left off. Nothing has happened since Dec 2006. The process is in limbo and there is no Forest Service Order implementing the Wag Bag policy.

If you would like to get the process going again, please print, sign, and mail the Appeal Letter. The situation is so bizzare they've created a "Catch 22" loophole for themselves (watch the movie "MASH" if you don't know what I'm talking about). Because they didn't publish a Decision Document, there is no open period in which to appeal the decision. Also, you technically need to have submitted comments back in 2004 in order to file an appeal. But don't let that stop you, just print, sign, and mail the appeal letter and consider it a petition to get this going again.

I've been in contact with the new Forest Supervisor and new District Ranger at Inyo. They were not involved in these decisions so they have a fresh perspective, which offers a unique opportunity to take a new look at this situation. If you send in a copy of the appeal letter, it will probably be dismissed on a technicality, but it will allow them to dedicate resources to this issue. The more letters they get, the better.

One last point, why am I so involved in this issue? Well I've only climbed Whitney 3 times, most recently with my 15 yr old daughter. We saw a lot of wag bags littering the trail and my daughter was disgusted. I have a unique background to look into this as a structural engineer, civil engineer, and building contractor with lots of environmental experience including water quality. What really motivated me was the crazy hostile comments I received on this message board. People that were involved in this process back in 2004 are EXTREMELY sensitive and they are convinced that toilets will not work. That NO CAN Do attitude triggers my solution-oriented engineering gene and that's what keeps me going. I might hike Whiteney one more time with my son, but otherwise, I have no interest in this. I just want to get this back on track, regardless of where it ends up. Your help is sincerely appreciated.

If you're wondering, gee, are solar powered toilets really feasible, please read this report from the Rocky Mountain NP Park Engineer entitled, "Performance Evaluation of Backcountry Soar Toilets," 2010. They have a 28-yr history of success at similar elevation and similar heavy use on Longs Peak in Colorado. Now maybe you're thinking those Colorado folks are just smarter than Californians. Maybe they are, but I think we can figure this out for Whitney.

Performance Report of Backcountry Toilets, Rocky Mtn NP

Please send in a copy of the appeal letter to Ed Armenta at Inyo. Thanks.
Posted by: DUG

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 10/25/11 09:45 PM

WAG vs solar -

WAG - PITA and kinda gross if not handled correctly. Always there when you need it.

Solar - No handling problems, yet still as gross as any public toilet. Not your problem when you're done with your business though.

My point is - I don't recall ever using the solar toilets when they were there (except for some funny photo ops at the summit) since I did not have to go when they were close by. I can only recall four times I've ever had to "go" in the Whitney Zone in my 20+ trips there.

Once was at LPL on a quick after lunch hike with my wife. (Yeah, we've actually driven 4 hours to have lunch at the Portal) Another time was at Trail Crest (on the way to the summit - gotta lighten the load). I had to use all three of my teams bags above Mirror Lake on a failed summit bid (I had turned around at Trail Camp due to stomach pain). The last time was a few hundred feet below the final 400 on the MR. That was a toughie because I could hear RichardP and my son talking above me and see others coming up towards me. Richard and my son had jokes, but a short while later after snacking prior to climbing the final 400 they both had to go fill their WAG bags. They had more privacy though.

I hate the bags because they are a PITA all around. I've seen over 20 "stashed" in my WZ travels since their use became mandatory. It kills the wilderness moment every time.

The Grand Canyon has enough solar toilets that most folks should be able to make the next one if needed.
Then again, I would hate to see a toilet or two on the 99 switchers.

I guess I'll leave this one up to whoever has the best set of credentials and I'll keep packing the WAG.

Now everyone knows how many times I've *$&% in the Whitney Zone.

As far as my credentials go - I am a mid western (mid 80s) HS grad, recently retired from 26 short years in the Navy, a "highly trained" (as per the US Navy - not me - says so on my annual evals) Support Equipment Mech, and I have chit in the woods. Unlike the bears, I have carried said chit back out more often than not.

Wake me up when this topic gets back to solar vs WAG and not a credentials check. smile.....................................DUG


Posted by: + @ti2d

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 10/28/11 02:29 PM

Given the type of "green" technology now, I am for the solar toilets. Technology has come a long way sincer those solars at OC and TC were installed years ago.

Seeing WAG bags is not very appealing. I came to enjoy the schenery and the challenge of the MWT and not see remnants of human encroachment and their disregard for the beauty of the Sierra.

I just hope they don't have rangers toting blue barrels like they did in the past. Rangers deserve better than that.
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 02/09/12 06:41 PM

Inyo NF finally replied to the Environmental Assessment Appeal I sent in last October. Apparently my hard copy sent via US mail never arrived, just my email. A few people said they also sent in a copy of the appeal letter. If they really did, the USPS apparently didn't deliver them because they claim not to have any others.

The reply admits the NEPA process was not completed. Here's the tortured reasoning: Since the program is only VOLUNTARY, they claim it was okay not to finish the environmental process. If wag bags were MANDATORY, they admit the environmental process would need to be completed. There you have it. That's the logic.

The reply goes on to claim a 99% compliance rate and completely ignores the report I emailed from Rocky Mtn NP describing their 29-yr success with solar toilets at 12,000+ ft.
Posted by: wbtravis

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 02/10/12 04:43 AM

Interesting. The next time I do Mt. Whitney I am going to refuse a WAG bag and see what the response is. My guess is I will be told I cannot go up the trail without one.

Let's see if I got this right, you have a trail that above 10,800' level is most rock and you cannot bury waste all that swell, you have upwards to 200 people a day traveling this area during the quota season and you have a voluntary program for human waste disposal. It seem to me this is a recipe for disaster...but that's just me.
Posted by: Steve C

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 02/10/12 06:05 AM

> The next time I do Mt. Whitney I am going to refuse a WAG bag and see what the response is. My guess is I will be told I cannot go up the trail without one.

There are also rules in place that require you to dispose of wastes properly. If you cannot do that, it leaves you with one option: pack it out.

I think the points SierraNevada is making is that Environmental Assessment process was never completed, and the old toilets were removed primarily because of the trouble in servicing them.
Posted by: wbtravis

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 02/10/12 12:07 PM

I've don't have a problem with the current policy, and I will carry a WAG bag. I just want to see what they say.

BTW, I forgot my WAG bag the first time up under this new policy. I did not have a problem finding a place at Trail Camp to dig my proper hole. However, this in May two weeks into the new policy...just after the Trail Camp Solar Latrine mysteriously burnt down.
Posted by: lynn-a-roo

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 02/10/12 05:15 PM

OMG, solar toilets are a sight for sore eyes for me when I'm hiking the Mt. Whitney Trail. I miss them terribly. Heck, I miss the little wooden enclosure with the toilet seat to set my wag bag on, it was located at Outpost Camp, that little toilet seat was heaven on earth on the Whitney Trail. My legs just can't take all that squatting. Every time I work out with my trainer and she tells me to do squats and hold them I tell her "this is my Mt. Whitney Trail Camp exercise". It's so nice to have some privacy too. Anything, I mean anything that would give a person some privacy and some comfort for a short while when nature calls would be an absolute blessing. I don't hate wag bags and I don't hate solar toilets and I don't hate just a toilet seat on a pair of legs, but I do hate squatting without any support, my thighs and calves are screaming at me while I'm waiting for nature to take its course. Sorry for being so blantantly honest but lets face the facts folks, it's really nice to set your tush down when the call of nature beckons and when you're so far from civilization on that mountain being able to do your thing comfortably is one of life's little pleasures on the mountain besides looking at the stars, smelling the trees and listening to the birds, why heck, you can do all those things at the same time as you're doing the other thing. LIFE IS GOOD!
Posted by: RoguePhotonic

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 02/10/12 05:34 PM

Quote:
Anything, I mean anything that would give a person some privacy and some comfort for a short while when nature calls would be an absolute blessing.


I hear that! I am the same way that by the time I am done my legs and feet are killing me. I always tell people the worst part of backpacking is squatting to go.

When I see a rusty, filthy, decrepit, out of level old pit toilet in the back country for use I am happy as can be! Hold the bees of course! (Redwood Meadow)
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 03/05/12 03:01 PM

Update early March 2012:
Last week I sent a reply to the Inyo Forest Supervisor responding to the District Ranger's email response to my appeal of the Environmental Assessment. I also requested a copy of all public documents pertaining to the Environmental Assessment. I still have not received a formal written reply to the appeal letter sent last October, which should come from the Forest Supervisor, not the District Ranger, per National Forest Service NEPA appeal regulations.

In my letter, I point out that this program is not exactly "voluntary." By removing the toilets, what else is a hiker to do? Except for a few locations where digging a cathole might be acceptable, there really is no other responsible option except to carry out your human waste.

Also, the following terms are used in Inyo publications to describe the human waste packout program, "required" "must" "expected to" and "only acceptable." The claim just doesn't hold up, in my opinion, that this is a "voluntary" program and therefore it was not necessary to finish the environmental process.

I still have not received one comment or even acknowledgement of the Rocky Mountain National Park Engineer Report on the Performance of Backcountry Toilets.

Despite the slow and limited response to date, I'm still optimistic that a sincere effort will eventually prevail to get this right.
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/17/12 07:06 PM

Update mid-April 2012:
I received a response from the Inyo Forest Supervisor acknowledging the appeal letter sent last October. The letter has a cooperative tone. The information I've requested is being gathered and he will finally read the Rocky Mountain NP Engineer's report I sent entitled, Performance Report on Backcountry Solar Toilets

He side stepped the NEPA legal issues, which is fine with me at this point, as long as they take a truly fresh look at this situation.
Posted by: John Prietto

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/17/12 11:07 PM

Well I feel like I'm stepping into the lions den. I'm about to just say a thought that just crossed my head but here's what I was thinking.

I was thinking what if each wag bag had a number that was traced back to a reservation number and if any wag bag was found they could easily trace it back to each person or group and have tickets sent out in large fines. I must say I hate red light cameras and anything where the government intrudes into my life but I think when a $250 fine shows up for left wag bag people will take it more seriously .

I also believe in education even if people were required to take a class about taking care of the wilderness and shown pictures of all the trash and wag bags I think people would have a different outlook. I know that education in other areas has left me thinking twice. Tickets and classes might decrease the issue and possibly the number of visitors but less is ok for me. I love the mountains and if people can't carry out there own crap then don't come out. Anyways Im all for toilets and it was a random thought not a educated well thought out thought but I thought I'd share it.

Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/18/12 07:26 AM

Several ideas like yours have come up before about solving the human waste problem with more policing. The first thing that would happen is people would just not use the bag at all - why leave evidence behind. The other problem is that Inyo has no legal basis to require anyone to use a wag bag, so therefore they can't enforce it. Technically, its a voluntary program. The reason they have no authority is they didn't complete the environmental process necessary to issue a Forest Service Order. As described in this thread, they went forward with Alternative 5 of the Environmental Assessment to remove the toilets and give out wag bags without bothering to complete the environmental process.

Despite this, everyone should use a wag bag and carry it out because it is the right thing to do in this circumstance. Without toilets, there is no other way to go.
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/18/12 08:23 AM

I can think of another way to go.

Stop being lazy and going right by the heavily used campsite areas. Hike way up off the beaten path and far from any agua, do your thing on a flat rock, smear it out very thin with another rock.

The sun takes care of it shortly after. Welcome to crapping in the mountains.
Posted by: MooseTracks

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/18/12 09:06 AM

I'm never napping on another boulder again... mad

On the other hand, I love Burchey's version of happy little clouds...

Posted by: quillansculpture

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/18/12 11:14 AM

That feels better...........

Posted by: Ken

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/18/12 11:18 AM

Quote:
He side stepped the NEPA legal issues, which is fine with me at this point,


Yeah, that's what I thought.
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/19/12 08:41 PM

Originally Posted By: Burchey
I can think of another way to go.

Stop being lazy and going right by the heavily used campsite areas. Hike way up off the beaten path and far from any agua, do your thing on a flat rock, smear it out very thin with another rock.

The sun takes care of it shortly after. Welcome to crapping in the mountains.

The smear and dry method may be appropriate in some rocky mountain areas where you can't dig a cathole, but not so good on Mt. Whitney with 200+ people a day smearing it around, 17,000+ each season. It's just too many people and they tend to camp in 2 main areas. This is where toilets are the best solution, in my opinion.
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/19/12 09:39 PM

Originally Posted By: SierraNevada
The smear and dry method may be appropriate in some rocky mountain areas where you can't dig a cathole, but not so good on Mt. Whitney with 200+ people a day smearing it around, 17,000+ each season. It's just too many people and they tend to camp in 2 main areas. This is where toilets are the best solution, in my opinion.


Do that many fools actually go up the Main Trail every season? It's less mountain and more amusement park.
Posted by: Steve C

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/19/12 10:51 PM

> but not so good on Mt. Whitney with 200+ people a day smearing it around, 17,000+ each season.

> Do that many fools actually go up the Main Trail every season?

Permit quotas: 100 day hikers, 60 overnighters, 25 Trail Crest exits. So the max number to enter is 185. But those overnighters are there at least two days, so boost the max to 245 person-days per day. Granted, they almost never are at capacity, so that 200 number is a good estimate.

...It ain't wilderness.
Posted by: MooseTracks

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/20/12 08:13 AM

Steve, don't forget to factor in the people who just cruise to either Lower Boy Scout and Lone Pine Lake without permits.

Come to think of it, it's hard to believe that the entire lower portion of the trail isn't one giant shitpile.
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/20/12 08:59 AM

Originally Posted By: MooseTracks
Steve, don't forget to factor in the people who just cruise to either Lower Boy Scout and Lone Pine Lake without permits.

Come to think of it, it's hard to believe that the entire lower portion of the trail isn't one giant shitpile.


Am I the only one that is able to go for more than 6 hours in a row without crapping my softshell pants? Does something about the hard-packed earth between the portal store and 10,000 feet magically squeeze the waste from ones bowels? It's magic! Some sort of Harry Potter wizardry?

I'd invite those day-hiking below the Whitney Zone to use the restroom at the trail head before they go. Might help.
Posted by: MooseTracks

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/20/12 09:17 AM

"But, daddy, I don't HAVE to go!"
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/20/12 09:55 AM

Originally Posted By: MooseTracks
"But, daddy, I don't HAVE to go!"


"well then honey, you'll have to stay in this nice bear box until I get back"
Posted by: MooseTracks

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/20/12 10:25 AM

Nice move, dad. Maybe you should just lock the kid in the trunk? ;)
Posted by: tdtz

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/20/12 02:09 PM

Originally Posted By: MooseTracks
Nice move, dad. Maybe you should just lock the kid in the trunk? wink


That's against the law. You aren't allowed to leave any foodstuffs in the car. Even if it is hidden in the trunk the bears will be able to smell that tasty little morsel. And you can imagine the sounds of little Bobby banging on the trunk lid being much like a dinner bell.

Laura, I'm surprised that you would encourage someone to break the law like that. Somebody is asking for a parking ticket with a big ole warning note slapped to the windshield.

Remember a fed bear is a dead bear!!!
Posted by: MooseTracks

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/20/12 02:11 PM

'Twere simply a suggestion, not encouragement.

Encouragement would be handing him the keys... ;)
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/20/12 07:46 PM

Originally Posted By: Burchey

Am I the only one that is able to go for more than 6 hours in a row without crapping my softshell pants? Does something about the hard-packed earth between the portal store and 10,000 feet magically squeeze the waste from ones bowels? It's magic! Some sort of Harry Potter wizardry?

I'd invite those day-hiking below the Whitney Zone to use the restroom at the trail head before they go. Might help.

Sorry to get back on topic, but the typical day hiker leaves around 3am and gets back in the afternoon. Do we need to get into statistics about what time of day most people take a crap? Surely nobody expects overnighters to hold it for two days. We talking 17,000 people a year - the capacity of an NBA arena.

Toilets have been a part of the Whitney trail experience since the 1960's. If you compare Long's Peak well-maintained system of solar toilets in Colorado to the wag bags littering the trail on Mt Whitney, I think it's clear toilets are the way to go.

I wish the Forest Service would have finished the environmental process and constructed new toilets as planned in the preferred alternative of the Environment Assessment. I'm hopeful they will work their way back to this solution over time.
Posted by: Yury

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/21/12 06:51 PM

I believe that the current wag bag policy is just a conspiracy to make a Mt.Whitney hike less appealing in order to decrease the actual number of people on the trail. smile
Posted by: wbtravis

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/21/12 10:35 PM

I do think that was part of Mr. Oye's thinking, Yury. I ain't got anything the way of proof, any proof I had burnt up the mysterious outhouse fire in 2007.
Posted by: quillansculpture

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/22/12 10:21 AM

Yep, Yury actually hit in on the nail! I can't tell you how many times I talk to other hikers about summiting Whitney and one of their responses as to why they couldn't do Whitney is "I just won't poop in a bag".

Fine with me :-)
Posted by: dbd

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 05/22/12 01:52 PM

Edit: The following posts were moved here from the "Yosemite: Fewer People Should Climb Half Dome" thread since the discussion blends with the Wag Bag issues more than the Half Dome permits.



Originally Posted By: Ken
Bob, I've always gotten the idea that most "public comment" processes exist so that agencies can say that they have taken public comment into consideration, without taking it into consideration....and try to make it as arms-length as possible, and certainly wouldn't want to meet in person (gasp). ...

Some processes for comments are inputs, some aren't.

For national forests there are Schedules of Proposed Actions where you can find where there may be actual input opportunities. For an example site to look in INYO:
http://www.fs.fed.us/sopa/forest-level.php?110504

For an example in a national park, look in the individual programs at the park website under Management => Planning and then look under individual plans. For example in Yosemite:
http://www.nps.gov/yose/parkmgmt/planning.htm

Some processes have no requirement for inclusion of public comment into decision processes. The NEPA process for example. The purpose of NEPA is to have your voice heard, not to require any agency to act on it. This was pointed out by the court in the HSHA case. In the thread discussing that, a url of the court's January decision was posted:
http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/files/Sequoia-Kings-Court-Order-2012-01-24-1.pdf
In its discussion the court states:
quote
NEPA is a procedural statute which does not "mandate particular results but simply provides
the necessary process to ensure that federal agencies take a hard look at the environmental
consequences of their actions." Neighbors of Cuddy Mtn. v. Alexander, 303 F.3d 1059, 1070 (9th
Cir. 2002); see Robertson v. Methow Valley Citizens Council, 490 U.S. 332, 349 (1989) ("It is now
well settled that NEPA itself does not mandate particular results, but simply prescribes the necessary
process.").
It was enacted with two goals mind: "(1) to ensure the agency will have detailed information on significant environmental impacts when it makes its decisions; and (2) to guarantee that this information will be available to a larger audience." Inland Empire Public Lands Council v. U.S. Forest Serv., 88 F.3d 754, 758 (9th Cir. 1996).
These goals are satisfied once the agency completes its evaluation; the statute therefore "exists to ensure a process, not to ensure any result." Id. at 758 (emphasis in original); see Metcalf, 214 F.3d at 1141 (9th Cir. 2000)
end quote

If you want to make effective inputs, you might try to participate in the activties that occur before or during planning, instead of afterwards as the NEPA, but the NEPA -will- "get you heard" smile if that's what matters to you.

Dale B. Dalrymple
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Yosemite: Fewer People Should Climb Half Dome - 05/25/12 12:15 AM

Dale, the NEPA process applies to all your examples. Of course the lead agency doesn't have to implement public comments, but they do have to consider them and explain how they were considered in the decision document. For example, when Garry Oye wrote his informal memo implementing the wag bags (which was not an official NEPA decision document), he simple wrote that comments were considered. That doesn't cut it. A decision document is supposed to make a good faith effort to address the comments. Often they bundle the comments into a group or by issue and address them as a group. A Final EIS might have an appendix with all the public comments in it and an explanation of how they were addressed.

As Ken stated, agencies don't usually take Joe Public very seriously. Joe Public is often misinformed or is labeled a NIMBY "Not In My Back Yard." Also, they assume Joe does not usually have the time or resources to follow up with a lawsuit. And let's face it, some agencies will simply do whatever they please unless directed otherwise by a court.

But organized groups are another matter. They tend to have expertise on the matter at hand and resources to fight it out in court. If they are politically connected like the commercial packers, then they have even more clout.
Posted by: dbd

Re: Yosemite: Fewer People Should Climb Half Dome - 05/25/12 11:25 AM

Originally Posted By: SierraNevada
Dale, the NEPA process applies to all your examples. Of course the lead agency doesn't have to implement public comments, but they do have to consider them and explain how they were considered in the decision document. ...

Yes it applies, to record comments after the planning process and only to proposals an agency intends to implement. If an agency drops a proposal, it not longer faces a requirement to implement the NEPA process for that proposal. Agencies can be required by NEPA to solicit, record and publish public comment on a specific proposal. There is no enforcement authority in NEPA to alter agency planning to respond to that public comment.
From
A Citizen's Guide to the NEPA
Having Your Voice Heard

http://ceq.hss.doe.gov/nepa/Citizens_Guide_Dec07.pdf
'Commenting is not a form of "voting" on an alternative. The number of negative comments an agency receives does not prevent an action from moving forward.'

NEPA provides hoops you can might make agencies jump through after a plan has been proposed or implemented. It does not give you a vote, change a law or allocate an adequate budget for a desired alternate action.

If you have identified an action that has been taken that you think would have required a NEPA process, you need to identify the relevant authority to convince that a NEPA process was necessary for that action to enforce the NEPA process for that specific action that was not propoerly commented. If you think implementing wag bags is a NEPA issue, you should find out who to convince that a NEPA process was required for the wag bag implementation and seek NEPA enforcement. The NEPA doesn't require implementation of the NEPA process for actions no longer proposed and not taken.

What do you think the arguments are for requiring the NEPA process for the wag bag implementation?

Who have you identified as the relevant authority to enforce NEPA compliance based on these arguments?

Originally Posted By: SierraNevada
...
But organized groups are another matter. They tend to have expertise on the matter at hand and resources to fight it out in court.
...

One of the reasons organized groups have more clout is that they follow the issues by watching the planning process and participating there instead of waiting until after the planning is done and merely commenting after a proposal has passed to the NEPA process. Another reason is that they know who has relevant authority and apply their resources there. When the Congress passes laws and designates where they apply (like 'wilderness'), the executive branch of government is required by law to enforce such laws. If you bump into that enforcement and don't like it (or the court's interpretation) the relevant authority to change the law is Congress.

Dale B. Dalrymple
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Yosemite: Fewer People Should Climb Half Dome - 05/25/12 05:59 PM

Originally Posted By: dbd
If you think implementing wag bags is a NEPA issue, you should find out who to convince that a NEPA process was required for the wag bag implementation and seek NEPA enforcement. The NEPA doesn't require implementation of the NEPA process for actions no longer proposed and not taken.

What do you think the arguments are for requiring the NEPA process for the wag bag implementation?

Who have you identified as the relevant authority to enforce NEPA compliance based on these arguments?

Dale B. Dalrymple

Implementing wag bags was Alternative 5 of a NEPA Environmental Assessment. There's no debate about whether or not it should be a NEPA process, it was. After waiting a couple years they removed the toilets as an "emergency" and then implemented wag bags without a decision document. That's what happened. The process was aborted. Now Inyo is claiming that they didn't need to finish NEPA because wag bags are only a "voluntary program." Because they didn't finish NEPA, they can't issue a Forest Service Order making it official. So all the ideas about enforcing wag bags with numbers and tickets and whatnot is out the door. The only thing they can get someone for is littering. Any effort to enforce wag bags would mean it wasn't "voluntary."

We're getting way off topic for Half Dome. This forum has a long thread dedicated to this issue at Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags
Posted by: dbd

Re: Yosemite: Fewer People Should Climb Half Dome - 05/25/12 10:49 PM

Originally Posted By: SierraNevada
Originally Posted By: dbd
... The NEPA doesn't require implementation of the NEPA process for actions no longer proposed and not taken.
...
Dale B. Dalrymple

Implementing wag bags was Alternative 5 of a NEPA Environmental Assessment. There's no debate about whether or not it should be a NEPA process, it was. After waiting a couple years they removed the toilets as an "emergency" and then implemented wag bags without a decision document. That's what happened. The process was aborted. Now Inyo is claiming that they didn't need to finish NEPA because wag bags are only a "voluntary program." Because they didn't finish NEPA, they can't issue a Forest Service Order making it official. So all the ideas about enforcing wag bags with numbers and tickets and whatnot is out the door. The only thing they can get someone for is littering. Any effort to enforce wag bags would mean it wasn't "voluntary."

We're getting way off topic for Half Dome. This forum has a long thread dedicated to this issue ...


You have a long history of misrepresenting the NEPA process here. Properly understanding NEPA relates to actions in the HSHA thread, the solar-toilet thread and possible responses to this thread.

For example, when the FS withdrew it's intent to replace the solar-toilets, the NEPA process that had been required by the solar toilet proposal ceased to exist. That an alternate discussion point in a cancelled NEPA process is latter implemented does not reconstitute the cancelled NEPA process. For example, every NEPA process includes a do nothing alternative for discussion, but adopting that alternative does not require the completion of the NEPA process for an cancelled proposal. So an action's consideration as a discussion topic in a cancelled NEPA process does not demonstrate that a NEPA process is required for it's implementation. Nor does the NEPA process for a canceled proposal satisfy NEPA requirements for any thing else. Also, the EA for the solar toilet proposal describes a situation that no longer exists. You are beating a dead horse.

Back to the general process under NEPA. A different proposal or action than the proposal in the cancelled NEPA process requires a new evaluation of whether the action, now appearing as a proposal, requires a NEPA process. If you wish to support that, it's time to start the justification of the NEPA process for the current action.

If you are interested in an action and so desire a NEPA process to promote discussion and satisfy NEPA requirements for the action, find an agency with the budget for, intent to implement and the belief in the legality, practicality, ... and desirability of the action. Then you may get a NEPA process. But the NEPA process doesn't start until there is an agency that has the action planned and budgeted (that agency budget must also include the cost of the NEPA process itself). That NEPA process won't satisfy the NEPA requirements for any action but the proposed action that initiated that NEPA process. NEPA isn't a planning process. It's a public comment on agency proposals process. NEPA only provides for public comment between planning and implementation. If you wish to use NEPA as a tool, learn what it does. And you'll recognize when others misuse it in these threads.

Dale B. Dalrymple

Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Yosemite: Fewer People Should Climb Half Dome - 05/26/12 09:07 AM

Dale, I sign CEQA documents regularly as part of my job responsibilities so you can quit the acquisitions about me not understanding the environmental process. NEPA and CEQA are basically the same for federal or state projects respectively.

As for what I'm writing about the toilet issue, it's coming directly from letters and emails from Inyo. You're interpretation of what happened is incorrect. They simply dropped the ball on finishing the NEPA and they know it. A 1st year law student could probably win a suit over it. As for moving forward, I point out what happened as a matter of fact, but I'm more interested in a better solution i.e. new toilets than I am dragging Inyo through the mud on this.

Again, this is way off topic to Half Dome quotas.
Posted by: dbd

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 05/27/12 08:45 PM

Originally Posted By: SierraNevada
... A 1st year law student could probably win a suit over it. As for moving forward, I point out what happened as a matter of fact, but I'm more interested in a better solution i.e. new toilets than I am dragging Inyo through the mud on this.
...

I'd like to see new solar toilets too.

I don't question the ease of winning a "NEPA lawsuit". But it can only force the Forest Service to publish an altered proposal and solicit, record and publish comments on the altered plan. It can't acquire, require or spend a budget for toilets. That was the point the court made when a similar argument to enforce an action on the basis of the content of NEPA comments was made in the HSHA case. Any suggestion that the NEPA process allows commenters to actually select from the alternatives discussed is a misrepresentation. Any suggestion that the comments are necessary to inform the Forest Service of solar toilets is silly. (Of course they know about solar toilets, they've burned them down! smile ).

One problem is the budget and the real problem with the budget is finding someone willing to afford the costs of defending the action against Wilderness Act/Wilderness Designation enforcement law suits from those who are happy with the current form of the Wilderness Act and the designation of Whitney and Half Dome under that definition of wilderness. This "Wilderness" problem is the same issue that effects whether more or any rangers at the cables would go without legal challenge. To get solar toilets or a higher quota on the cables at Half Dome that "Wilderness" issue is what needs resolution. Soliciting and publishing comments in satisfaction of NEPA requirements doesn't alter that situation either.

The next problem is that even if someone can afford the costs of the legal challenges, they have to win. It may be that no one considering actions in conflict with current "Wilderness" definition and designation thinks that they will succeed in changing the current definitions and designations that stand in the way. They may be right. Democracy doesn't always mean one gets what one wants.

Dale B. Dalrymple
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 05/28/12 12:03 AM

Originally Posted By: dbd
Any suggestion that the comments are necessary to inform the Forest Service of solar toilets is silly. (Of course they know about solar toilets, they've burned them down! smile ).

Actually, its not silly to inform Inyo of the Rocky Mountain NP Engineer's Performance Report on Backcountry Solar Toilets. 1) They claimed toilets wouldn't work, which is a major reason why we have Wag Bags today. 2) The current Forest Supervisor had never seen this information.

You can read a lot of complaining about wag bags on this and other forums, but at least I did something about it. I laid out the facts about how the environmental review was not completed properly, I countered the notion that solar toilets somehow won't work, and I got them rethinking this problem. If the hiking community supports toilets, perhaps they will give them another try. I'm not holding my breath because Wag Bags are cheap and easy to hand out.
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 07/25/12 05:57 PM

Update July 2012: I recently received the public documents from the 2004 Environmental Assessment. The comments were overwhelmingly against the Wag Bag Alternative 5. There were some duplicates, some totally off topic, one comment before the comment period, and a petition in support of new toilets with 85 signatures with addresses.

After sorting them, I tallied up 19 "Pro Wag Bag" comments. Inyo came up with 18 "Pro Wag Bag" comments so I'm being generous.

Inyo tallied up the comments in support of a particular Alternative, they did not count the many letter that were openly hostile to wag bags but didn't specify a particular Alternative. Secondly, Inyo grouped the petition with 85 signatures into one comment. Consequently, Inyo came up with 44 comments in favor of toilets (new ones or keeping the existing ones going).

Inyo: 44 for toilets. 18 for wag bags.

I went a step further and included the comments that came in opposing wag bags as a bad idea. Many of those didn't follow protocol and support a particular Alternative. I can't report these as pro-toilet, but many of those comments are very hostile about wag bags, no doubt about that. Secondly, I think people that sign a petition with addresses and phone numbers should be counted, so I include them as well.

My Count: 141 for toilets. 19 for wag bags.

Every environmental group who commented (4) supported wag bags and most of them also wanted lower quotas. One of those groups also recommended keeping the toilets at Outpost Camp. Some of the pro wag bag comments have a last name of an officer in one of those organizations, probably family. Further Googling would probably find more correlation but I'm only speculating. To summarize, the support for wag bags is mostly from environmental groups who also want to lower the quotas.

Lastly, the NPS Sequoia-Kings Canyon wrote a long letter that was politely skeptical of wag bags, "Our anecdotal information on the compliance with pack out your human waste programs in alpine environments is less than optimistic. Mount Rainier NP has attempted this with less than full success. In many areas of NPS in alpine environments, we continue to believe that toilets with occasional helicopter removal is the most protective of wilderness resources such as water sources, soils, vegetation as well as aesthetical wilderness values."

One more time for emphasis, the NPS SEKI wrote Inyo that toilets would best preserve wilderness values.
Posted by: saltydog

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 08/06/12 10:09 AM

Originally Posted By: SierraNevada
Everyone is entitled to their opinion about quality, but these threads have (or had) a lot of links to reports, photos, and other information. Over 300 views in less than 4 days here on this board. I think people are interested because this issue affects them very directly.

What keeps you coming back?


Questions like this:

There really is no rule requiring use of wagbags vs conventional methods? How does Inyo square that with their web statement that human waste "must be packed out", or the Rangers' practice of checking for wagbags?

And is it also true on the NPS side, where SEKI gives the same impression that pack-out is required?

Also if there is no rule requiring it, then it is much easier to understand that the decision to implement - consisting of nothing more than supplying wagbags - in itself does not even trigger NEPA - no "Major Federal Action" involved, as opposed to a much larger program involving removal of existing toilets, etc.

PS: The fact that public comments heavily favor one alternative over another have never held much sway in NEPA review. Plenty of courts have held that NEPA is largely procedural, and that an agency decision has to be totally irrational in order to be reversed, not just sub-optimal or even not a good idea. I think one even found that the EIS could show that the sun would cease to rise after a particular action, and a decision to go ahead would not violate NEPA.
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 08/06/12 11:46 AM

I've asked Inyo Management the same question about all the language implying that this program is mandatory. The reply I got was, "thank you for taking the time to point this out in our various publications."

The District Ranger confirmed there is no Forest Service Order. Almost every FSO requires a NEPA decision document to accompany it. Since they did not complete NEPA, they are stuck in an interesting dilemna.

Regarding the question about whether NEPA even needed to be completed for the WAG bag program. Well, Inyo certainly thought so since they produced a length Environmental Assessment with five alternatives. The WAG bag alternative had enough potential impacts to possibly require an EIS. Please read the EA and you'll see they were very worried about massive noncompliance and enviromental degradation. This is were a lawyer would have a field day for implementing something like that without completing NEPA for that alternative.

Regarding public comments: you are correct, there is no NEPA requirement to satisfy public opinion, it would be paralizing to get any project done if that were the case. HOWEVER, one of the main tenants of NEPA is to provide for public input into the decision making process. The decision document is supposed to decribe how public comments were considered in the final decision. It's in the NEPA guidlines and Forest Sevice policy documents. Here's a quote from the Forest Sevice template for completing the EA process:

Public Involvement
The proposal was listed in the Schedule of Proposed Actions on [insert dates]. The proposal was provided to the public and other agencies for comment during scoping [insert dates]. In addition, as part of the public involvement process, the agency [insert description of public involvement efforts and reference to documents in record detailing results].
Using the comments from the public, other agencies, and [insert others such as tribes, depending on the situation] (see Issues section), the interdisciplinary team developed a list of issues to address.

If removing the toilets and implementing a WAG bag program (Alternative 5) did not have impacts, then they should have simply completed a Finding of No Significant Impacts (FONSI) and a proper decision document including an explanation of how public comments were considered, and then they could issue a Forest Service Order. Instead, they were not transparent and Garry Oye published a psuedo-decision document implementing Alternative 5. He had the nerve to thank Whitney climbers for helping to find this solution.

EDIT: The need to properly consider public comments is especially important in this case because the solution shifts the burden for managing human waste from the agency on to the hiker's back. With public comments running 7:1 against this approach, and with the impacts described in the EA; it's seems arrogant to me to ignore the public, circumvent the NEPA process, and then pretend it's all above board and mandatory.

If this WAG bag alternative fails, these same people will be claiming that toilets won't work and they will call for reduced quotas, which seems to be the real agenda for some.
Posted by: saltydog

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 08/06/12 10:07 PM

Very good analysis and interpretation.

This leaves the more concrete questions: the answer you got on inquiring sounds as close as you are going to get to: yeah you're right, we've got no business saying its required but we're going to push it as long as we can get away from it.

And the NPS question. SEKI gives the impression that the Whitney Zone extends down to the Crabtree station, and that wagbags/pack-out are required from there on. OF course they also give the impression that bear boxes are required on the HST, which I know is wrong. Makes you wonder if Inyo really has a rule there, too.

In any event, SEKI issues bags with HST permits, and says at the time (and I think on the permit with Whitney exit)that they are required past Crabtree. Not so?

Are they just cooperating with Inyo or did SEKI/NPS actually issue a rule?
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 08/07/12 07:59 AM

Originally Posted By: saltydog
In any event, SEKI issues bags with HST permits, and says at the time (and I think on the permit with Whitney exit)that they are required past Crabtree. Not so?

Are they just cooperating with Inyo or did SEKI/NPS actually issue a rule?

Good question. I was not aware of SEKI handing out bags for the HST or implying they are mandatory. I thought they had a cache of bags at Crabtree and that was the extent of their cooperation with Inyo on this. SEKI originally advised Inyo against the WAG bag alternative in a long letter commenting on the 2004 Environmental Assessment. I guess they had to adapt to the situation once the toilets were removed.

It brings up another question - what does a northbound JMT hiker do with his/her plump WAG bag, carry it all the way to Yosemite Valley? Do they have a collection point at Crabtree?

I just want to add that everyone should still use WAG bags because there really is no good alternative right now. The purpose of bringing all this up is to be honest with the people who are shouldering the burden for this solution. They should not be relying on public deception and evasion of environmental law to force this on everyone, in my humble opinion.

Posted by: saltydog

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 08/07/12 01:32 PM

OK: Here's an interesting little factoid. I just did a pretty thorough search of the Inyo NF website, and the only statement I found that packing out human waste is required is in a couple of press releases from around 2006 and 2007. The only other mention of wag bags I found is in the information on permits: that the bags are handed out with permits, not that they are required. You would think that if it were a requirement, you would come across it looking for a permit.

The only mention on the site itself of wag bags and packing out is in the Mt Whitney advisory you can find -- if you look for it -- on the Mt Whitney information section downloadable on the permit page:
Whitney pdf

This page carefully says that wagbags are the "only acceptable method" in a long persuasive paragraph, but unlike with bear canisters, never says they are required. This may sound like nit picking, but Inyo chose to put it this way, and everywhere else says "required" when they mean "reguired". There is a big difference here between arguing for them and requiring them. Clearly the intent here is to convey the idea that they are required without stepping over the line of saying so.

There are specific instructions on disposing of human waste by burying it elsewhere on the site, but aside from the old press releases, I couldn't find that Inyo actually says anywhere that pack-out of human waste is required.

How they got the message out there that hikers are required to pack it out may be a genius piece of policy and communication, but as far as I can tell -- and I say this advisedly -- it looks like it ain't so.

Someone please tell me where this is wrong. And "Everyone knows it" is not a good answer. Show me.

And PS: Yes as of last year SEKI goes through the drill when issuing permits with Whitney exits: I still have several from last year after backing off Kaweah Gap
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 08/08/12 06:18 AM

Yes, Salty Dog, they seem to be playing carefully with semantics on this point. It should confirm what I've been writing about lack of legal authority, and it also confirms there is no other acceptable alternative since they removed the toilets.

From the Inyo NF Mt Whitney Trail Webpage
Dispose of Waste Properly

"At Mt. Whitney, the only acceptable way to dospose of human waste is to pack it out. There are simply too many visitors in the area to use other common waste disposal methods." [typo is theirs]

We can either voluntarily carry poop in a WAG bag, or carry poop in a WAG bag voluntarily, your choice. confused
Posted by: wbtravis

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 08/08/12 08:54 AM

Has anyone refused a WAG Bag? If so, what has been the reaction of the staff at the ESIVC.

Admin note: This topic has re-opened in April, 2013, from the thread, "Grow Up or Go Home". Talk and debate about solar toilets has been appended here, while discussion of hikers leaving their mess behind remains in the other.

On 04/11/13 08:58 AM wbtravis wrote:
Quote:
This is a part of the problem that plagues this mountain. People wanting all but are not willing to pay the price. We see this all quota season long with the questions they ask here. Where to I rent crampons, what's the best motel in town, do I really need to acclimatize, etc.

This will continue until the Forest Service tags on an environmental fee onto the permit and builds a modern toilet system on the sites where they once were. This is a problem created by the forest service in the personage of Garry Oye, not a hiker problem...neophyte hikers and once-and-doners are only going to do what they always do. They knew the volume of people who went up this trail and the type of hiker who went up this trail. They made the problem let them deal with it. It is not our job to cover up for their mistakes.

Mr. Oye in a letter to me said his people were not paid to handle hazardous waste. The end result is his people are handling hazardous waste daily during the quota season rather than one to two times when waste helicoptered out.
Posted by: George

Re: Grow Up or Go Home - 04/11/13 11:44 AM

On the basis of expense and effectiveness (as I currently understand it) I'm still supportive of wag bags in the very heavily used trail corridors they're required. I don't support expanding that requirement beyond Whitney to Guitar Lake. I've not looked into composting or evaporative toilets in maybe 4 years or so, but have yet to come across one that actually composts at altitude and low temperatures. There's a bunch out there an in use, but they require a lot of initial cost to build (in remote areas over $30,000); a lot of year maintenance costs (a dedicated person to do it); and you're still packing out raw waste.

Now, this could well have changed in the last 5 years. A quick Google scan doesn't really show anything definitive one way or the other. If I were really dedicated, I'd at least call Yosemite and see if they've gotten any of theirs to work.

Now, there's nothing really wrong with using a vault type system -- and where you somehow separate the urine from the solids (a problem in itself) -- and just haul it out, but you have to recognize that's what you're doing and plan for it. That's what we did at Ostrander ski hut (average of 20 people per day to a max of 27). A four month season requires about 15 Jonny Partner cans. Not a bad solution but would never work on Whitney corridor.

I'm interested in information on actual working systems since this comes up occasionally but, for the moment, am not at all in favor of them over wag bags.

g.

PS: A dragon? That would improve the experience some... .
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Grow Up or Go Home - 04/11/13 05:23 PM

Originally Posted By: George
Now, this could well have changed in the last 5 years. A quick Google scan doesn't really show anything definitive one way or the other. If I were really dedicated, I'd at least call Yosemite and see if they've gotten any of theirs to work.

The best modern system in Yosemite that I'm aware of is the composting system in Little Yosemite Valley, and a smaller one at the top of Nevada Falls. If anyone has used these they probably had a surprisingly good, mostly odor free experience. They have an old model at Vogelsang High Sierra Camp (10,000ft) that was basically a holding tank, bad design and lack of maintenance. For the challenging locations at higher elevation, the best example is Long's Peak in Rocky Mtn NP (a popular 14er with similar usage as Whitney). This has all been discussed in previous posts, but at the bottom of this post is a link to the a report by a National Park Engineer Joe Arnold that describes about 30 years of successful toilets at a higher elevation than Trail Camp. At these difficult locations, a solar powered dehydrating system is the way to go. The history of success with the toilets at Long's Peak proves that it could be done at Whitney where we have more sunshine than Northern Colorado.

For any toilet system, especially at higher elevations, it takes dedicated staff to perform regular maintenance to make it a success. The best design in the world would fail if it was not kept up. So the only way it would work at Whitney would be to get full buy-in from the people required to maintain it. The current generation of Whitney Rangers struggled horribly with the crappy designed old toilets and they are probably scarred for life about this. At Long's Peak, they use Llamas on a weekly basis and the task is not all that bad. No helicopters. The Llamas are very popular with the hikers and it gives them a chance to meet people on the trail and teach the ethics that Laura and others are screaming about (understandably).

And for those who love wag bags so much, go ahead and use them all you want, at home, on the trail, at the office, just don't force them on everyone else as the only possible solution to a difficult problem.

Performance Evaluation of Backcountry Toilets
Posted by: George

Re: Grow Up or Go Home - 04/12/13 09:51 AM

An excellent and well written report. Many thanks for the link. It's a variation -- and apparently a successful one -- of the toilets that were on the Whitney trail (evaporative)but which failed. It would be interesting to compare the designs and why the previous ones failed. Did the Whitney sites just not get enough sun? Are there better sites? Looking at the photos, it's hard to imagine the ones sited in the meadow would be approved today.

The key, as repeatedly stated, is regular maintenance. The use of llamas would also be important. It wouldn't make sense to be packing out 2,500 lbs of human waste while generating that amount or more of stock generated manure and urine using mules.

So, I'm now convinced it's technically possible (Yay!). But I'm still not convinced the cost, aesthetic intrusion of toilets and taking a chance on the long-term ability of USFS to provide maintenance is a justification (vs. wag bags). Building one or two would require an Environmental Assessment (maybe even an EIS).

Getting anything built within a designated wilderness would be a huge struggle. I'm totally winging it, but I would think you'd have to show serious environmental impacts -- such as water pollution and/or impacts as a result of wag bags being used -- that could be mitigated or solved by installing the toilets.

Arguably, you could send maintenance or rangers up every 3 weeks to scour the rocks for abandoned bags and pack them out on a much cheaper schedule and saving the cost of installing the toilets.

But beyond that -- and here dim memories of previous threads on this subject begin to surface -- is why this subject gets so emotionally charged? There seems to be some weird fastidiousness when crapping into a bag that I don't really understand.

Anyway, maybe worth pursuing and very likely useful for other sites (non-wilderness). Just don't see it happening on Whitney.

g.
Posted by: George

Re: Grow Up or Go Home - 04/12/13 10:08 AM

Originally Posted By: JAGCHiker
One on one education in varying methods hopefully will 'eat the elephant'-one bite at a time. But its worth it; because the alternative of letting their ignorant and bad behavior damage the outdoors- to me is unacceptable.....


But wait! There's more. For whatever it's worth, that's the endless struggle. I well remember the decades-long efforts to educate baby boomers, who started hiking in the late 60s and early 70s. It was a dual problem. Then, there was not even the "leave no trace/minimum impact" philosophy as an ideal to point to. For instance, it was only just being recognized as a problem to not bury your garbage and everyone carried a hatchet to hack away at wood. The Sierra Club was still running trips into the 60s with week long camps of 50 even 100 people; being resupplied by mule strings of 30 animals; sending out sawyers each day to cut wood to feed the non-stop campfires.

Which is all to say that, yes, there's a new generation of semi-clueless coming along. For my part, I'm happy they're out hiking than staying home watching video games. I'm also reasonably confident that with a combination of cheerful pep talks and the occasional citation, like previous generations, they'll come to understand why it's important to take care of the place.
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Grow Up or Go Home - 04/12/13 05:42 PM

Originally Posted By: George
An excellent and well written report. Many thanks for the link. It's a variation -- and apparently a successful one -- of the toilets that were on the Whitney trail (evaporative)but which failed. It would be interesting to compare the designs and why the previous ones failed. Did the Whitney sites just not get enough sun? Are there better sites?
g.

The old Whitney toilets used burlap sacks, which failed early on, and then were adapted to use baskets to dehydrate the solids. The Long's Peak toilets also use baskets but the entire system seems to be upgraded and better engineered. For example, the solar collectors used to heat the air that is blown across the baskets. Long's Peak also has an effective system to separate and evaporate the liquid waste. The devil is in the details. It requires custom engineering to overcome the various challenges that come up. The key parameter is sizing the system to match the realistic maintenance that can be performed. The Whitney system seemed to be undersized relative to the frequency of removing waste. I think they did only two helicopter runs per year if I recall, and they were storing waste in drums and having spills etc etc. I can see where the Rangers would hate it. One way to increase the capacity is to use a rotating basket that can hold more waste without building another seat. Adding a urinal can also improve performance by reducing the volume of liquid to separate out.

As for siting, the Trail Camp location seemed correct, but I'm not so sure about where they located the Outpost toilets. As for solar energy available, you can't do much better than southern California. The mountains shorten the length of exposure, but it's plenty if the collectors are sized right.
Posted by: MooseTracks

Re: Grow Up or Go Home - 04/12/13 05:46 PM

I'm really sorry that you guys can't respect the idea of the original post, ("Grow Up or Go Home")which was regarding backcountry ethics, even after I requested politely that the discussion of a "proper" waste disposal system in the WZ be reserved for other threads.

Moderators, please delete the thread.

There are long, LONG other threads out there discussing this topic. I'd ask that you please resurrect those threads and continue your discussion.

Edit: This post has been split off from the Grow Up thread.
Posted by: wagga

Re: Grow Up or Go Home - 04/12/13 07:01 PM

This is a distinctively valuable thread, so let's not delete it. If 100% of the peeps in the Zone subscribed to the wilderness "Leave No Trace" ethic, then there would be no problem.

But they don't, so the only real answer to the problem is to collect some amount of money per peep which pays to remove waste from the mountain's watershed.

Which is legitimately the subject of a separate thread.

Fork* this thread!

* Send each line of discussion off separately.

Posted by: Steve C

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/12/13 11:45 PM

Originally Posted By: wagga
This is a distinctively valuable thread, so let's not delete it. If 100% of the peeps in the Zone subscribed to the wilderness "Leave No Trace" ethic, then there would be no problem.

But they don't, so the only real answer to the problem is to collect some amount of money per peep which pays to remove waste from the mountain's watershed.

Which is legitimately the subject of a separate thread. Fork* this thread!

* Send each line of discussion off separately.

Ok, thread "forked". This is posted in the Solar Toilets vs wag bags thread, where the discussion can continue.
Posted by: Steve C

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/12/13 11:56 PM

Originally Posted By: Bee
Beesides, I want this query addressed:

Originally Posted By: Woodsy Guy
But beyond that -- and here dim memories of previous threads on this subject
begin to surface -- is why this subject gets so emotionally charged? There
seems to be some weird fastidiousness when crapping into a bag that I don't
really understand.

I think there are several issues going on that causes so much "participation".

1. Nowhere else are people required to pack up their poop, and carry it in a backpack. When backpacking, that pack carries food, shelter and bedding. Nobody wants excrement mixed with that, and the idea that it is included in the pack -- well, it is disgusting to even me.

Compare that to Colorado River raft trips. Even there, people's toilet waste is carried but can be physically separated, even on a separate raft, from their food.

2. As seen in last year's posts in this discussion, the toilets were removed from the Whitney area and the wag bag plan implemented without full consideration of the other options available. With the toilets in place, they might have been upgraded to an improved and viable system, but instead, they were literally burned down. Now, as George has written, "Getting anything built within a designated wilderness would be a huge struggle"
Posted by: Bob West

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/13/13 07:25 AM

Take a look at the current Mt. Whitney quotas and do a daily head-count:

Permits
•  Wilderness permits are required for all overnight trips in the John Muir Wilderness and Sequoia National Park, and for all day trips in the Mt. Whitney Zone.
•  May 1 through October 31, use is limited by daily entry quotas:
    -  Overnight hikers: 60/day
    -  Day hikers: 100/day
    -  Exit*: 25/day
•  Obtain permits at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center, located 1 mile south of Lone Pine, CA, at the junction of Highway 395 and State Route 136. During quota season, permits are available during business hours. Outside of quota season, permits may be self-issued after hours.
* Exit quota applies to visitors who end a trip on the Mt. Whitney Trail, but begin it elsewhere.

Got it? That's a 100 day hikers per day, plus 60 overnighters per day. That's a heck of a lot of shit over the course of a quota season.

Until the USFS can come up with a practical waste disposal system (toilets that work), I believe the daily quotas need to be dramatically reduced (perhaps 30 day hikers per day and 15 overnighters per day). That alone will reduce the amount of human organics left in the ground. The Whitney environment needs time to adjust to the constant human traffic and their residue.

I realize that many of you would scream and yell if the quotas were reduced, but have you any better suggestions?
Posted by: John Sims

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/13/13 07:42 AM

Originally Posted By: Steve C

1. Nowhere else are people required to pack up their poop, and carry it in a backpack. When backpacking, that pack carries food, shelter and bedding. Nobody wants excrement mixed with that, and the idea that it is included in the pack -- well, it is disgusting to even me.


One small thing that might help would be to upgrade the quality of the wag bags. I find them thin, and know of several cases where they broke and spilled the contents inside the backpack.
The bags used at Shasta several years ago were at least double the thickness.
I personally carry a heavy duty zip lock to put the wag bag in.
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/13/13 10:23 AM

I concur with the extra bag, John. Another trick I learned from the old Shasta kits - kitty litter. I bring a small amount of kitty litter as another line of defense between the bag layers.

Wag bags have their place in the toolset for backcountry human waste management. A good example of using both effectively is Mt Shasta. There's a really nice composting toilet at the Sierra Club hut (Horse Camp 8,000 ft) and then you are required to use a wag bag above that point (which is typically snow covered during the hiking season). Another toilet at Helen Lake 10,000ft would be difficult to maintain in the snow, but it's being done with mixed results on other mountains in the Northwest. The Shasta "hybrid" system gives people a choice of camping near a nice toilet or camping higher up in the snow and using a wag bag. It seems to be working pretty well overall. As with any system, it's not foolproof because there's a small percentage of fools anywhere you go.

In one of my letters to Inyo management, I suggested trying a similar approach as Shasta, with new toilets at Outpost Camp and wag bags required above. After a few years of positive experience (assuming the Rangers support the effort) the idea of toilets at Trail Camp could be reconsidered.
Posted by: wbtravis

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/13/13 05:58 PM

Bob,

I don't like reducing the quota for one reason...the people in Lone Pine, who make a majority of their money between 4th of July and Labor Day weekends. Draconian cuts to the quotas would put a lot of these folk out of business.

I believe the best way of getting this thing fixed is with an environment fee, which will provide the seed money to get these things built and afterward maintained. The people who benefit from these toilets pay for them. Of course, if we started today it would take at least 10 years to get anything done.
Posted by: dbd

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/13/13 06:02 PM

Originally Posted By: Steve C

...
1. Nowhere else are people required to pack up their poop, and carry it in a backpack. When backpacking, that pack carries food, shelter and bedding. Nobody wants excrement mixed with that, and the idea that it is included in the pack -- well, it is disgusting to even me.
...

It may be yucky but in times of reduced budgets and conservative wilderness designations, the world is starting to hold people responsible for their impacts on the places they love.

I think you know that your "Nowhere" statement is well into drama queen and far from reality. I don't see how that can contribute to any positive resolution, do you?

In your own backyard, Yosemite NP has required climbers to carry out for years. Do you think Halfdome is "Nowhere"? National parks that have been doing the same thing include:
Denali
Grand Canyon
Gunnison
Kenai Fjords
Mount Rainer
Rocky Mountain
Yosemite - big wall climbers
Zion - Zion Narrows, climbers

Organizations that are concerned about continuing access and maintaining environment quality for their members are supporting this. That includes the Access Fund and the American Alpine Club. International guiding organizations that recognize the need to protect the places they want to continue to visit such as Alpine Ascents International have supported this around the world. I suppose that this means that people who find environmental responsibility too personally challenging can hire help.

Dale B. Dalrymple
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/13/13 08:26 PM

Dale, you crack me up comparing the Mt Whitney Main Trail to big wall climbing in Yosemite, glacier travel in Alaska, and river rafting the Grand Canyon. Most of the places you mention have nice toilet systems wherever there are large numbers of people hiking a particularly popular area like the Main Mt Whitney Trail. Your list of places where toilets are used include multiple locations in Yosemite High Sierra Camps and backcountry huts; Grand Canyon Angel Bright Trail and also Havasupai, Mt Rainier has solar or pit toilets at the remote campsites at various elevations in the snow (wag bags are used if necessary and are deposited in collection bins on the mountain - not packed out), Kanai Backcountry Lodge has toilets (award winning ecotourist destination, Gunnison Black Canyon campgrounds have toilets, backcountry in Zion NP there are pit toilets at Lava Point Primitive Campground. About the only place there aren't toilets is subzero Denali, but unfortunately biodegradable wag bags have not solved the problem. The majority of wag bags are thrown into a cravasse between Camp 14,200 and basecamp, 18 days worth per climber, 1,500 climbers per season. Here's a study explaining how wag bags are working out on Denali.

If you're interested in environmental protection, toilets provide the best environmental protection when there are large numbers of people involved and conditions permit. Rocky Mtn National Park is mentioned as an example of wag bags, but it's actually the perfect example of how toilets should be done on Mt. Whitney, as stated over and over again on this thread. If the RMNP engineers and rangers were in charge at Whitney, this is how it would be run. .

The American Alpine Club is quoted in support of wag bags, well they're quite supportive of backcountry toilets where they make sense, I've spoken to them about it personally. They are currently trying to raise $50,000 to install a backcountry toilet at Vantage Washington, so feel free to donate here if you're interested in helping them. They're at $42,000 and the other groups involved include the Washington Climbers Coalition and Frenchman Coulee Climbers Coalition.

Minor edits for grammar and links
Posted by: Bee

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/13/13 08:55 PM

As someone who came from the field of science, I really appreciate your steadfast pursuit of the facts -- just the facts -- SN. A lot of histrionics surface whenever this topic is discussed, however, you toe the scientific line and deal in documented evidence, only. I have to say, too, that this Denali study is verrry disturbing.
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/13/13 09:30 PM

Thank you, Bee. That means a lot coming from a professional in the debate world.

Yeah, too bad about Denali. It illustrates how human nature changes at a glacier pace, but environmental destruction can happen overnight.
Posted by: Bob West

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/14/13 07:35 AM

As a local observer of the Owen's Valley economy, I can tell you that most of the tourist money spent in Lone Pine is coming from people travelling through Lone Pine on the way to other places - like Mammoth Mountain, LA, or Reno, but not from Whitney trail backpackers. A reduction in quotas might have a mild effect on local business, but not much.

As you can see from the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce website http://www.lonepinechamber.org/ there are a lot of other things to do in the area besides the Whitney hike.

But I like your idea of an environmental fee; perhaps added on to the current permit fee. How much, I wonder? It would have to cover the cost of installation and annual upkeep of the toilets.

How about limiting Whitney hiking permits to one per season per person? That might upset the Whitney addicts, but would give other hikers a chance in the lottery.
Posted by: saltydog

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/14/13 09:34 AM

Originally Posted By: SierraNevada
Thank you, Bee. That means a lot coming from a professional in the debate world.


I am sure anyone familiar with debate will recognize a false premise and a false dichotomy, which we seem to have here. How are wag bags and solar toilets mutually exclusive or in any way alternatives or opposites to each other? Unless you think you can make it to TC or OC from anywhere on the trail in time, placing solar toilets there will only be a very partial solution maybe not even for a majority of it.

Don't know about most people, but most of my time - and as it happens, elimination - in the back country is not spent where I sleep, and I have heard more stories about wag bags being discovered out along the trail than either at TC or OC.

Not a scientific survey of course, but we should not assume that even the best toilets would obviate the need for other measures.
Posted by: dbd

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/14/13 11:30 AM

Originally Posted By: SierraNevada
Dale, you crack me up comparing the Mt Whitney Main Trail to big wall climbing in Yosemite ...

The fact is, I didn't compare the Mt Whitney Main Trail to anything. I compared the widespread current and past use of wag bags to a simple emotional lie ("Nowhere ...") that I was careful to exactly quote. The response that drew is a complete misrepresentation of my post. Thanks for responding with a demonstration of another component of the problems with the presentation of the solar toilet issue on this site.

I'm one of the people who would like to see solar toilets on the Mt Whitney Main trail. I just believe that (whether as emotional utterances or sustained methods) falsehoods and distortions are tactics that do more harm than good. They have no positive contribution along any path that can lead to establishing functional solar toilets on the Mt Whitney Trail. Where the goal is to entertain the faithful, falsehoods and distortions are standard modern media practice. Where the goal is to achieve operational change, there will be no progress until falsehoods and distortions are eliminated. I'm not arguing against solar toilets. I'm arguing against the roadblocks that people keep insisting on building in the way.

Why doesn't anyone want to discuss what actions we need take now to get from where we actually are to where we want to go? Not entertaining enough? Too difficult? I'm not saying that I have confidence we'll get solar toilets if we try, but I'm sure no one on this site is working in that direction whether they think they are trying (or say they are trying) or not. But people like to read the posts and some seem to think that is justification enough.

Dale B. Dalrymple
Posted by: Bee

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/14/13 02:44 PM

Originally Posted By: saltydog

I am sure anyone familiar with debate will recognize a false premise and a false dichotomy, which we seem to have here.


Definitely, I am not acting as a moderator of this topic. I was reflecting on the fact that SN is very careful to back up any of his statements of fact....with facts -- so rare on message board chat. I believe that the title of the thread miscasts some of the participants in the "either/or" category, when in fact, some of them have suggested a toilet for the lower elevations and the continued use of WAG bags above a certain point.

Originally Posted By: dbd
Why doesn't anyone want to discuss what actions we need take now to get from where we actually are to where we want to go? Not entertaining enough? Too difficult? I'm not saying that I have confidence we'll get solar toilets if we try, but I'm sure no one on this site is working in that direction whether they think they are trying


It was my understanding that SierraNevada has put a lot of time and effort in this very task in question. I recall(correct me if I am wrong) that he has written numerous correspondences, rallied others to do so, disseminated written reports on the topic, etc.
Posted by: John Sims

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/14/13 05:32 PM

Originally Posted By: saltydog

How are wag bags and solar toilets mutually exclusive or in any way alternatives or opposites to each other? Unless you think you can make it to TC or OC from anywhere on the trail in time, placing solar toilets there will only be a very partial solution maybe not even for a majority of it.

Not a scientific survey of course, but we should not assume that even the best toilets would obviate the need for other measures.

As Salty points out there is no guarantee that toilets will totally eliminate the need for wag bags, and since the toilets will not be built this year, why not consider ways to improve the current wag bag system.
1. Improve the quality of the wag bags. Include a separate bag for transporting the wag bag (attached to the backpack?).
2. Set up "pick up stations” every 1, 2, 3,... miles, where they could be dropped off. I'm confident that containers could be designed for easy sanitary use, as well as easy to transport down the trail every 1,2,3,...weeks as needed. Hauling a "hermetically sealed" drum would (I think?) be preferred to picking up wag bags by the rangers. Llamas could be used to haul these drums I guess?
These two steps would partially eliminate the issue Steve brings up about hauling shit in the same backpack that one's food, sleeping gear, etc... is carried in. Perhaps we would get a higher use of the wag bags (we really do not know how many do not bother with the wag bag, and simply shit in the woods, or behind a rock), and would certainly reduce the number of wag bags left along the trail side.
The cost of these "pick up stations” would certainly be less than the toilets, and "might” reduce the amount of excrement left in the wilderness. Certainly not the final solution, but perhaps a step in the right direction. Not sure if any data is collected about the amount of waste collected at the trail head, but if it is measured it would be possible to compare the amount of waste collected the old way, and the new way. The results would be interesteing.Doing nothing is shameful.
I have a feeling that this is not such a new/novel suggestion, but I offer it nonetheless.
Any other suggestions?
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/14/13 09:55 PM

Collection bins for used wag bags would be very similar to a toilet system, but without the privacy. This works well on on Rainier in conjunction with toilets. Note that the title of this thread is Solar Toilets vs CARRYING Wag Bags. People don't like being forced to carry their poop up and down the mountain. That's why many people choose to leave the bag of crap by the trail for everyone to stumble by. Many (but not all) pick it up on the way down. Collection bins would mostly solve that problem, but some will just go on the ground. Toilets generate the highest level of compliance and provide best environmental compliance, period. But there are people who feel strongly that everyone has to take full responsibility for their poop and the only way to do that is to carry it to the summit and back down to the trailhead. Sounds great, and lots of people do just that, but not everyone complies, hence the problem.

As stated throughout this thread, wag bags have their place in the toolset for backcountry human waste management. Even if the old toilets were replaced (Preferred Alternative 1 in the original Environmental Assessment) at Outpost Camp and Trail Camp, it would still be a good idea for people to use a wag bag on the upper mountain above Trail Camp or in between toilets if necessary. Use one if you wanted to camp away from the toilets. Same for camping on snow where you can't even dig down to the frozen ground. Wag bags have their place, but as predicted, they are not working well as a stand alone replacement for the backcountry toilets that were removed.

I'm due for another letter to Inyo management, and I'll again put forth the idea of a trial system at Outpost camp. But everyone should realize that this will only work if the people responsible for maintaining them are on board. Without Ranger buy-in, they will fail no matter how good of system is installed.
Posted by: dbd

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/14/13 11:47 PM

Originally Posted By: Bee

Originally Posted By: dbd
Why doesn't anyone want to discuss what actions we need take now to get from where we actually are to where we want to go? Not entertaining enough? Too difficult? I'm not saying that I have confidence we'll get solar toilets if we try, but I'm sure no one on this site is working in that direction whether they think they are trying


It was my understanding that SierraNevada has put a lot of time and effort in this very task in question. I recall(correct me if I am wrong) that he has written numerous correspondences, rallied others to do so, disseminated written reports on the topic, etc.


Bee

We've heard many NEPA presentations from SN. The fact is, that issue can't get us solar toilets no matter how much time has been spent on it.

As I posted last year:
05/27/12 08:45 PM
Originally Posted By: dbd

...
I'd like to see new solar toilets too.

I don't question the ease of winning a "NEPA lawsuit". But it can only force the Forest Service to publish an altered proposal and solicit, record and publish comments on the altered plan. It can't acquire, require or spend a budget for toilets. That was the point the court made when a similar argument to enforce an action on the basis of the content of NEPA comments was made in the HSHA case. Any suggestion that the NEPA process allows commenters to actually select from the alternatives discussed is a misrepresentation.
...
One problem is the budget and the real problem with the budget is finding someone willing to afford the costs of defending the action against Wilderness Act/Wilderness Designation enforcement law suits from those who are happy with the current form of the Wilderness Act and the designation of Whitney and Half Dome under that definition of wilderness. ... To get solar toilets or a higher quota on the cables at Half Dome that "Wilderness" issue is what needs resolution. Soliciting and publishing comments in satisfaction of NEPA requirements doesn't alter that situation either.

The next problem is that even if someone can afford the costs of the legal challenges, they have to win.
...

I would add that "legal challenges" don't have to come from outside. Any supervisor in the Forest Service/Department of Agriculture chain of command who believes that the "Wilderness" issues preclude building solar toilets, or just believes that a challenge would succeed is a pretty effective barrier.

I still haven't seen any constructive activity here. What accomplishments do you, Bee, think you have seen that has taken us closer to having solar toilets than we were a year ago?

Dale B. Dalrymple
Posted by: Bee

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/15/13 12:14 AM

Originally Posted By: dbd
What accomplishments do you, Bee, think you have seen that has taken us closer to having solar toilets than we were a year ago?

Dale B. Dalrymple


A year ago? Accomplishments that I have seen? A year a is very short time when it comes to the mechanism of change. I will say that I was pleasantly surprised by George's reaction to the latest report that SN posted for him. It moved George to reconsider some of his earlier negative responses to the idea of solar toilets of any form (with good cause based on 'imperical' evidence of the past)Change comes in small bites and at times, sudden broad-sweeping turnarounds.

At risk of introducing a subject that is unrelated to this topic (used to demonstrate unlikely change, only), I would point out that the subject of same-sex marriage in Supreme Court cases would have been verboten a few years ago -- or maybe even one year ago; however, the winds of change had been blowing long before the cases appeared, as folks worked quietly(and not so quietly) behind the scenes. Change requires effort -- silent and unseen to much of the masses -- with the understanding that the payout may not come as quick as we all desire.(I am sure that a lot of folk in the Civil Rights Movement were asking many of the same questions about their efforts and slow pace of change)
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/15/13 07:00 AM

Originally Posted By: dbd
Why doesn't anyone want to discuss what actions we need take now to get from where we actually are to where we want to go? Not entertaining enough? Too difficult? I'm not saying that I have confidence we'll get solar toilets if we try, but I'm sure no one on this site is working in that direction whether they think they are trying

We've heard many NEPA presentations from SN. The fact is, that issue can't get us solar toilets no matter how much time has been spent on it.

Dale B. Dalrymple

The NEPA "presentations" on this thread came about while I was researching the history of toilets and how they came to be removed. It's hard to believe that a Federal agency would circumvent environmental law, but that is what Garry Oye did to get his way. Some of the people involved in the decision process were posting about how it was all good and they didn't need to file a decision document or consider public input (which ran HEAVILY against the wag bag program). Well legally they did need to file a decision document to complete the NEPA process, and that process includes an explanation of how public input was considered. And since they didn't file a decision document, they can't issue a Forest Order today to require wag bags. So understanding the history is vital to understanding the situation today. I shared what I learned and gave people some background on the environmental review process.

Never did I suggest taking this to court as a solution or way forward, although I did mention that if someone did, they would probably win very easily. The NEPA appeal process tends to get people's attention, so it was a good way to reopen the issue with the new management at Inyo. But I was always clear on the phone and in writing that I was not intending to pursue that direction personally.

After speaking with Joe Arnold, Rocky Mtn National Park Engineer who wrote the Performance Report on Backcountry Toilets, we came to the conclusion that forcing this issue onto the Rangers just wouldn't work. Running a toilet system is difficult and you can't have people undermining the effort. Perhaps if the maintenance was contracted out to a private firm and the Rangers were not involved. That brings up personnel and contracting issues, but that's what is done at Yosemite to service the toilets with pack mules. LLamas seem like a better way to go, and I'm sure a nice business could spring up somewhere in the eastern Sierra to do the job.

So, I've been doing my background research, debating people who try to prove that toilets won't work, teaching people about environmental law as it applies to what was done, and trying to maintain positive relations with Inyo Management. In between, I have a full time job, a part-time structural engineering business, and I'm raising two teenagers. I get to Whitney every few years, so it's not like it affects me.
Posted by: wbtravis

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/15/13 08:28 AM

The process of getting this done without the support of the Sierra Club or like organization is nearly impossible. I watched a documentary on mountain bikers in the northwest and their struggles to get land managers to listen to their story. I was not until they various small groups and individuals coalesced around a large well long established organized group that anything got done.

If this documentary, which was produced with Forest Service participation, is to be believed, there are 21 steps to get anything approved...including the NEPA process, which is mentioned prominently in this documentary.

Whoever takes this on better be well financed and connected. The individual has zero chance.
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/15/13 08:53 AM

WB is 100% correct about how the process works (or doesn't work). I'm a solutions guy. I tell it like I see it and I solve problems. I think I've laid out a good foundation for moving forward, but someone else with a lot more time, patience, connections, and money needs to guide this through the planning process.

This sounds dumb, but there has to be a well defined problem to justify action. The status quo wins by default unless people organize and demand something different. As far as I can tell most people think the wag bags are not solving the problem. Some people think they can change human nature to make it work. The Sierra Club is probably in this camp, but I can't say for sure. They should be outraged at the way the NEPA process was circumvented. If that process happened on a project they were involved in, there would be lawsuits without a doubt.

Based on the comments submitted for the Environmental Assessment, the local hiking groups seem to want lower quotas regardless, and new solar toilets would not help them with that goal. So they may never come around.

The Rangers are on record stating that picking up wag bags is, "job security." They seem to think their previous bad experience with toilets is the only possible outcome, which is just not true. But their opinion matters a lot, even if a private company is contracted to do toilet maintenance.

So it seems to be a mixed bag of opinions out there, which plays into maintaining the status quo. It really depends on how the problem is defined, does the water have to be polluted to show there's a problem, or does the hiker experience matter at all? Will hikers organize and sustain a long term effort? These questions need to be addressed and a consensus needs to be built to move forward. Paraphrasing Bee, it could happen quickly once things line up, but it may take a lot of time and effort behind the scenes to get things to line up.

Edited to add some thoughts as I found time this morning.
Posted by: dbd

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/15/13 01:42 PM

Originally Posted By: Bee
... I will say that I was pleasantly surprised by George's reaction to the latest report that SN posted for him. It moved George to reconsider some of his earlier negative responses to the idea of solar toilets of any form (with good cause based on 'imperical' evidence of the past)Change comes in small bites and at times, sudden broad-sweeping turnarounds.
...

Bee

That "latest report" is the same one previously posted in this thread. George replied to it 09/26/11 08:25 PM as:

Originally Posted By: George
An excellent report from Rocky but I have to say I'm not convinced the same system will work on the Whitney corridor. The key to the Rocky report seems to be weekly (!) maintenance and hauling out the solids. The USFS has a very poor record of being able to maintain anything in a remote wilderness setting. Not their fault, mostly. A combination of budget constraints and commitment.

The original Whitney toilets seems to have failed because of poor design and infrequent maintenance. The two that were built could, literally, be smelled 1/4 mile away on a bad day. I believe construction and maintenance exceeded $50,000 at least. That kind of money just doesn't exist for federal agencies anymore. Poor maintenance required that 50 gal. drums of human waste were stored nearby until they could be hauled out.

This isn't to say that, under ideal conditions (careful engineering and a guaranteed budget for, say 10 years) a system similar to Rocky couldn't be built... . I just doubt it could be maintained. As tight as budgets are for NPS, they're far worse for USFS (Inyo/Whitney corridor). To me, it's not worth taking the risk of another expensive failure.

How much of that money could otherwise be used to hire a ranger and llama, say, to pick up the abandoned wag bags?? Much more efficient use of the money and likely cheaper.

George


So it looks like George's turnabout is real progress, if he will just stop turning and if he was wrong the first time.

Dale B. Dalrymple
Posted by: Bee

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/15/13 04:43 PM


Originally Posted By: DBD
That "latest report" is the same one previously posted in this thread. George replied to it 09/26/11 08:25 PM


okay, excellent -- glad someone is keeping track of these things.

Posted by: George

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/16/13 07:41 PM

Quote:
That "latest report" is the same one previously posted in this thread. George replied to it 09/26/11 08:25 PM as:


That's great! <Insert animated emoticom of a guy laughing his ass off... .> Well, I re-read both and admire my consistency though not my memory. I truly have no memory of previously reading that report or writing the first comment but am relieved that they don't contradict each other. My memory may be tanking but the internal logic centers are functioning!

But I'll stick with cheerfully agreeing it's technically possible but repeat that no one has come up with a reason toilets need to be (re)built. We can quibble that USFS did or did not follow the letter of NEPA etc. I will tell you from first-hand experience a statement like "they would probably win very easily" if going to court is spectacularly wrong. It's a total crap shoot (um, so to speak). The HSHA suit against Sequoia Kings that Morrison and Forster took on (pro bono) and won, probably cost near a million dollars. I talked to a USFS attorney who defended the USFS master plan and they spent well over $500,000 just to unsuccessfully defend (from the same law firm) their EA a few years ago.

SN absolutely correctly says "This sounds dumb, but there has to be a well defined problem to justify action." That's not dumb, that is the crux of the this whole discussion and, from an EA/NEPA standpoint, nothing said here has successfully addressed that.

I don't really care about the toilet brouhaha problem except to the extent I hear the distant baying of hounds and the ancient instincts of my kind want to join in the chase. But I think it's useful to have an overall understanding of the Wilderness Act and how you go about complying with its requirements. For any project, you need a Purpose and Need statement. The two are fairly inextricably linked. The Purpose is based on the Need and aims to solve or mitigate that need. It has to be within the strictures of the Wilderness Act and assorted supporting laws and regulations (e.g. NEPA, National Historic Preservation Act & other stuff).

Quote:

does the water have to be polluted to show there's a problem, or does the hiker experience matter at all?


It's all about the Environment. So yes to the first: as above and within the strictures of the Wilderness Act etc., if you can show that stream or other environmental pollution is increased either as a result of wag bags or because the toilets were removed, then you're starting to build a need that a Purpose can address.

But no, the hiker experience matters very little except as it applies to the WA. Hikers merely unhappy about crapping into a bag would have no influence in how a Need is developed. Aesthetics, though, is arguably a need (e.g. wag bags left hither and yon) in that they disturb the wilderness feel of a place. But is building a large toilet and the associated maintenance a reasonable intrusion necessary to solve that problem? Or would other Alternatives in such a document be better -- e.g. hiring extra rangers to pick up and pack out abandoned wag bags? What is the Environmentally Preferred Alternative? Which would have less environmental impact to achieve the purpose and solve the need?

So SN et al have indeed done a terrific job of establishing a technical solution to what -- so far and within the meaning of the Wilderness Act -- is, unfortunately, a non-existent problem.
Posted by: Steve C

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/16/13 11:29 PM

Interesting points, George.

All this makes me wonder... If there is no problem as far as the Wilderness Act goes, and if there is no Forest Order requiring me to use a Wag bag, what would be the problem then, if I were to find a spot far enough from the trail and from water, and doing my business in a cat hole?
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/17/13 07:59 AM

Steve, I'm not a lawyer (and I don't play one on TV), but I see no legal reason why you can't use basic wilderness methods for human waste in the Whitney Zone. As a practical matter though, it's hard to find a decent spot to dig a cat hole anywhere above say 10,000ft, and the good holes have probably been used already. If everyone did that, the quotas would have to be reduced. That seems to be the real goal here for some people, so it would play into their hand.

George, the NEPA process was botched so badly they can't issue a Forest Order. In effect, they already admitted defeat legally, the only thing left would be for a judge to remedy the situation. Who knows what a judge would do to right the ship, but what Garry Oye did should be very disturbing to anyone who follows environmental law. Nobody drafts a lengthy and detailed 50-page EA, switches the preferred alternative during the public notice, waits years until it turns into an "emergency" and then circulates a memo disguised as a decision document that lies about overwhelming public opposition. Congratulations, Garry if you're reading this, you got your way and nobody seems to care how you did it.

The costs you cite for other lawsuits are typical, but they have nothing in common with the bizzare way that the Whitney Environmental Assessment process was mishandled. No group with skin in the process would ever let that happen in real time, and (almost) any judge would reprimand the agency acting in that manner.

As to the Wilderness Act, this thread has a great number of photos of toilets within designated Wilderness, so that argument doesn't match reality throughout the Sierras. They were used for decades in the Whitney Zone. The bigger question is why is this special zone with enormous popularity and difficult management challenges considered "Wilderness" in the first place? It makes more sense to set the boundary at Trail Crest, in my opinion.

In any case, toilets were considered compatible with Wilderness ethics under these unique circumstances for decades. This concern about Wilderness values was mentioned in the EA but it was not a deal breaker because of the history and the reality that toilets provide the best environmental protection. Apparently a trail littered with plastic bags full of human waste is the new definition of Wilderness.
Posted by: George

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/17/13 07:06 PM

Quote:
As to the Wilderness Act, this thread has a great number of photos of toilets within designated Wilderness, so that argument doesn't match reality throughout the Sierras. They were used for decades in the Whitney Zone. The bigger question is why is this special zone with enormous popularity and difficult management challenges considered "Wilderness" in the first place? It makes more sense to set the boundary at Trail Crest, in my opinion.

In any case, toilets were considered compatible with Wilderness ethics under these unique circumstances for decades. This concern about Wilderness values was mentioned in the EA but it was not a deal breaker because of the history and the reality that toilets provide the best environmental protection. Apparently a trail littered with plastic bags full of human waste is the new definition of Wilderness.


True, but I wonder how many were installed in the last, say, 10 years before EAs and environmental compliance became much stricter? For instance, Sequoia Kings put a bridge on the South Fork crossing. The EA was about 25 pages and took two months to write. It was quickly approved. A couple of years later, I was the lead writer for an EA to replace 3 existing ranger stations. That took several years to write, went to 150 pages and wasn't approved for almost 10 years. Those aren't necessarily equivalent to putting in a toilet, but the point is there's major scrutiny of anything being built in designated wilderness. Something we could easily do 10+ years ago is now difficult to impossible.

Regarding Wilderness boundaries: a reasonable point in some ways but now impossible to change. Ostrander Ski Hut is an enclave within the Yosemite Wilderness. The boundary is something like 10 feet from the walls of the hut and the guy who drew the boundary admits that was a major mistake. The old septic tank (at 25') is outside that boundary so when we needed to create a better toilet system, we couldn't because we couldn't repair the old septic tank. (Toilets, it's always about toilets...). It would literally take an act of Congress to change any wilderness boundary.

Also true that the toilet itself is not a deal breaker within the WA. But you still have to show it's the best environmental choice (not an absolute, there's wiggle room, but it's got to be pretty solid compared to the other Alternatives). If the USFS EA was shoddy or dishonest -- and I'll take your word for it (and am not surprised) -- getting it overturned still wouldn't help all that much. You'd have to go back to square one, show the need (unacceptable impacts of status quo) then justify the toilets compared to other alternatives.

As a side note, there might have been a chance before the old ones were destroyed. You might have been able to argue a Categorical Exclusion (Cat X) and put the new one on the existing site without an EA. But I think once those were gone, that chance passed. We very possibly could have gotten a Cat X for putting new ranger stations on the existing footprint of the old one, but SEKI opted for the safest course with a full EA.

An interesting point about not using the wag bags. I don't know. Sequoia Kings has what's called the Superintendent's Compendium -- these are local park rules with the force of law. So there's one that says all rules shown on the wilderness permit must be obeyed and to not do so is a violation of the Compendium with a fine and CFR violation code. I don't know if USFS has a similar regulation through the CFR (Code of Federal Regulations). When you get a permit, does the permit say you have to use the wag bag in the Whitney corridor? Or do they just hand you the bags and say use them (please). If the latter, then it probably doesn't have the force of law. You could contact the USFS Law Enforcement Office and ask. I'd be interested in what they say.

Just checking the SEKI permit, there's nothing about a specific wag bag requirement for Guitar Lake and beyond. I absolutely don't want to advocate not using them there, but unless there's something else for the NPS side, it's voluntary (and there may well be something else...). I also want to point out that the ranger there reports much less problem with toilet paper and feces under rocks. I think there's also some evidence of lower levels of e coli in the lake, which is to say the bags have a net positive effect.

Well, anyway, I do want to give SN an attaboy. As a long-time advocate and organizer for various forlorn hopes, I'm impressed with the quality of the groundwork you've done. As noted, I don't agree with the need, but the basis of all change is educating the public in an honest and straightforward way and hoping others join in. So, on that front: solid work!


Posted by: wagga

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/17/13 08:04 PM

SN is our very own Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha.

Perhaps the real answer is to grandfather in non-wilderness corridors say, 100 meters* either side of the road/trail. Look at either side of the road on the Glacier Point topo. WMT, just like the HD trail, is not wilderness, at times it's a freaking narrow superhighway to a specialized tourist destination. A specialized tourist destination that we are loving to death.

* Meters - eventual standard measurement. 100M is about a football field in length.
Posted by: wagga

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/17/13 08:14 PM

Originally Posted By: George
A couple of years later, I was the lead writer for an EA to replace 3 existing ranger stations. That took several years to write, went to 150 pages and wasn't approved for almost 10 years.

Perhaps the Ranger Station wine cellars became a sticking point?
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/17/13 09:28 PM

George, you raise a lot of points again, and thanks for the attaboy. I forget that nobody is really keeping up with the 132 previous posts, but it gets frustrating to go back over this stuff again and again. This is all described somewhere above.

First point George, your SEKI NPS management commented on the EA in a letter to Inyo. They strongly recommended NOT going with the wag bags, stating their very own NPS negative experience with them due to lack of compliance. So no, SEKI is not requiring them either.

The EA was actually a very well written document. The only thing shoddy or dishonest was the way it was handled. The problem was that it recommended installing new toilets. The District Ranger at the time, Garry Oye, didn't like the preferred alternative. (He since moved to the NPS in Washington by the way and I would love to debate him on what he did.) He was dead set on going with wag bags and he abused the process to get that result. The first thing he did was change the preferred alternative in the public notice, so it didn't match the Environmental Assessment. This created confusion, a lot of work for his staff explaining things and several commenters raised questions about it. Inyo sent me copies of all the EA comments so I know what I'm talking about. The hiker groups went for wag bags and generally recommended lower quotas. That's why they looked the other way while Garry made a mockery of NEPA. Individuals, on the other hand, overwhelmingly opposed wag bags and wanted the toilets replaced. But individuals don't really matter in the environmental process, they don't sue.

Then came nothing. Inyo did a pilot study with toilets and wag bags and nobody really complained much because they still had toilets. Then came the memo. It looked a lot like a NEPA decision memo. It was circulated as if it were an environmental document. After years of delay and poor maintenance, surprise, the toilets were so worn out he claimed he had to act on an emergency basis to remove them. The memo thanked the hikers for their positive feedback and for helping him find a solution. That's the lie I refer to above. Garry, please feel free to respond if you're reading this from Washington.

So the Environmental Assessment process is supposed to end with a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) which means they can proceed with the selected alternative. Or if there are significant impacts, and the EA identified many potential impacts with the wag bag program, then an Environmental Impact Statement is required before they can proceed with the alternative. Well, Garry implemented the Wag Bag Alternative in the EA without completing either. That's why his memo was not actually a decision document. And that's why they can't issue a Forest Order requiring you to use a Wag Bag. I can't believe I'm writing this again.

Having explained all that, as I've written above, it would be easy for a law student to force them to go back and complete the NEPA process since they implemented an alternative with known impacts without completing the process. But in the end, they would undermine the effort to establish and maintain a working toilet system. That's why I haven't been in favor of that approach. Maybe I'm wrong about that. It might be the only way to get anything going.

As to moving forward, it takes an official organized group, with the threat of a lawsuit or perhaps an actual lawsuit, and someone who can sustain a frustrating effort to build a coalition to eventually get something done. As you can tell from my writing style, I don't have that level of patience. I'm a designer and builder. I can tell you what's feasible, I can design it and I can build it. But don't ask me to sit through meeting after meeting playing Kumbaya with people dreaming in fantasyland of how they can change human nature with nothing but time. Sorry if I've insulted planners, but you gotta admit deep down it can feel that way sometimes.

Last point, George. Do you recognize this toilet in a designated wilderness in your SEKI NP? Pear Lake ring a bell, due west from Whitney? It's not a flush model WILDERNESS toilet like the one at SEKI High Sierra Camp at Bearpaw on the High Sierra Trail, but it does the job and it looks pretty nice to me. Much better than plastic bags full of crap.


Posted by: George

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/18/13 08:55 PM

Quote:
Last point, George. Do you recognize this toilet in a designated wilderness in your SEKI NP? Pear Lake ring a bell, due west from Whitney? It's not a flush model WILDERNESS toilet like the one at SEKI High Sierra Camp at Bearpaw on the High Sierra Trail, but it does the job and it looks pretty nice to me. Much better than plastic bags full of crap.


Good photo and, really, my point. That was built well before my rough estimate of 10 years for getting serious about Wilderness and/or NEPA compliance. Yet again, it's hard to believe one could be built now. Also, Bearpaw is not in a designated wilderness. It's an enclave outside the wilderness boundary and not subject to those laws. Dial back the gratuitous snark, please.

More importantly, it doesn't "do the job." I have been closely interested in this problem since the mid-90s seeking solutions for Ostrander Ski Hut. In 2008 I wrote one of the people in charge of the Pear Lake one and the one shown in the photo:

Quote:
There are definate compsoting issues with the Phoenix and Clivus toilets. The one at the hut is a Clivus Multrum. It does not compost well due to the cold weather but it works very well as a holding tank. ... If you're considering one for Ostrander,I'd suggest to only get one if your intentions are to use it as a smell free holding tank, and not for it's composting properties.


You (and others) continue to ignore the relative environmental impacts of "plastic bags full of crap" vs. a large structure and associated maintenance costs and impacts. You cannot demonstrate that, say, hiring another ranger or worker to clean up x number of abandoned wag bags is less of an unacceptable or unworkable environmental impact.

If an agency is going to haul out raw shit, then the maintenance costs and environmental impacts of fewer wag bags is demonstrably less than that of a toilet, of whatever efficiency. That's the hurdle you have to overcome and the standard you have not yet met.

Quote:
Perhaps the Ranger Station wine cellars became a sticking point?


Well, the power consumption of the wine refrigerator was a small problem. Those darned Bordeaux are just so sensitive to the jostling of mules and temperature fluctuations!
Posted by: SierraNevada

Re: Solar Toilets vs Carrying Wag Bags - 04/18/13 10:01 PM

Sorry, George, was not trying to be snarky. I find it ironic that SEKI NP has this nice looking toilet at Pear Lake within a designated wilderness that happens to be due west of Mt Whitney. Has an engineer looked at the composting issues there or is this left to Rangers to figure out? This elevation is probably about as high as you want to go with a composter type, a dehydrator starts to be a better choice. In order for a composting toilet to work here, the building must be very well insulated and solar heated as much as possible. It looks like it's had a makeover in the photo, I wonder if they insulated the inside of those pretty stone masonry walls.

I didn't realize Bearpaw was in an enclave boundary excluded from designated wilderness, but it's been there for 75 yrs so it makes sense. Muir Trail Ranch is like that, right on the JMT, also with toilets of course. Same with the Yosemite High Sierra Camps. Here's the quote from the Bearpaw website, "Bearpaw is set 11.5 miles into pristine national park backcountry, high atop a 7,800-foot granite saddle overlooking the Great Western Divide. Central shower house with flush toilets and hot showers." Nice little business in the middle of a wilderness.

I think we just have to agree to disagree about this one, George. You're a Ranger recommending hiring more Rangers to pick up plastic bags, and I'm an engineer recommending toilets as the best solution for a popular area like the Whitney Zone. I look at that toilet in the photo and I don't see impacts, I see proven environmental protection that's perfect for a lot of people in a sensitive area. The costs are shared by many and it comes out similar to the plastic bags full of chemicals. We both understand the difficulty of reversing what has been done at Whitney, but I thought you could at least stop claiming they don't work. I hope you can acknowledge that toilets are not unusual in the backcountry, whether it's designated wilderness or a carved out enclave surrounded by designated wilderness.