What Happens to your Poop in the Mountains

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What Happens to your Poop in the Mountains

Category Altitude and Health

By Neha Satheesan

2022-03-11

Have you ever wondered what happens to your poop when you go trekking in the mountains? I’m sure that’s the last question to pop in your mind while planning a trek, but we at Indiahikes have given it some serious thought. Serious enough to write a blog piece on it. 

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➤ So What’s Our Secret?

After countless experiments on our varied expeditions in the hills, we think we’ve finally figured out the most effective and sustainable solution to handling poop at high altitudes. If I were to give it to you in one word – it’s Composting. 

Yes, the same old concept you first read about in your science textbooks in middle school. But don’t worry, this one has nothing to do with earthworms 🙂 In fact, by the end of this article, you’ll have developed enough understanding as to how to provide the right conditions for composting. And I’ll also sneak in a few tips to speed up the process for you. So without further ado let’s get to business. 

➤ How Exactly is Composting Carried Out?

 To compost poop, all you really need is a hole in the ground. If you’re trekking alone or with a couple of friends, carry a shovel. Use it to dig a pit about 1 foot deep, then squat over and do your business. Once you’re done, use the same mud you pulled out to cover the hole. 

This technique is called the cat pit system and is simple enough when trekking with little to no company. 

When moving in a large group, however, of let’s say 15-20 people, you can’t go around asking everyone to dig their own holes each day. You require a bigger and more efficient system. This is where we at Indiahikes use the dry composting toilet pit. It’s basically a deeper version of the cat pit system in the sense that it often covers a depth of 4 feet or more. 

The compost pit is where the magic happens. The entire process of decomposition is carried out by microbes – microscopic organisms naturally present in the soil – which help break down the organic matter of the poop. 

And like any other living organism on our planet, they require their own set of suitable conditions which help them thrive. 

➤ 4 Things Absolutely Critical for the Microbes to Survive:

1. Food:

Our tiny friends require a balanced diet that’s rich in both nitrogen and carbon, ideally in the ratio of 1:2 respectively. While nitrogen is sufficiently present in your poop to help the microbes kickstart the composting, carbon on the other hand needs to come from an external source. 

At Indiahikes, we usually prefer carrying sacks of mud or cocopeat/sawdust (both rich sources of carbon) on our treks which we place near our compost pit for trekkers to use while finishing up. One other essential source of carbon you can add further is the soiled toilet papers you’d have used, which you can add in the pit along with the cocopeat. 

Please be mindful that the toilet paper you bring along on the trek isn’t bleached or laden with any chemicals as this’ll kill the microbes. That’s the reason why we also strongly discourage bringing wet wipes along on our treks. 

2. Water:

Your body ensures that the microbes get enough water to play their part in the composting process. This is where your poop and pee come in handy in keeping the compost system hydrated. It’s also the reason why this entire method is called the “DRY” compost pit as you don’t need any extra water from outside. 

3. Air:

Microbes require oxygen to perform the aerobic decomposition of matter. Having a pit in the ground allows for natural aeration and enables the pit to ‘breathe’ well. 

4. Shelter:

The final thing that these organisms need is shelter, in particular, the right temperature to do their work. This is a hard task as you’re in the mountains, but you are helped to some extent by the fact that the temperatures underground are warmer than land. Besides, make sure to keep the pit in a location that gets direct sunlight during the day.  This provides the microbes with an ambient temperature to carry on the process. 

➤ What Happens to the Compost Pit after Your Trek?

If you follow our instructions and tips mentioned above to the letter, it’ll take about 6 to 8 months for your poop to completely decompose into organic manure. This inspired us at Indiahikes to actually go back to our same spots once our trek season is finished, after about 8 months to check on the toilet pits. You can therefore take our word when we say that these dry compost pits are a great way of converting poop into nitrogen-rich manure. 

To know more about the process, or if you have any queries regarding it, feel free to write to me at neha@indiahikes.com or drop in a comment below. If you found this piece insightful, do remember to share it with your fellow trekkers. 

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Neha Satheesan

Head of Green Trails & Video Content

About the author

Neha Satheesan is the Green Trails Manager. A Master in Environmental and Sustainability Sciences, she works with trekkers and local communities to make trekking an environment-friendly sport. Passionate about community-led initiatives, she believes in empowering people to become agents of change. When not busy saving the environment, she likes to explore cities, doodle and bring up baby plants.

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