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Pooping at Altitude

I apologize for the lack of pictures to accompany this post. However, as I think you’ll agree, it’s probably for the best.

Recently I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to climb Denali with my co-worker and good friend, Bill. I had read about people climbing mountains. You read about these historic figures conquering massive peaks, and it all sounds rather glamorous.

Yeah, it’s not like that at all. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure for some people it is (they’re liars though). In all the planning we did, all the prep-work and training, there was just one thing that I don’t know if I could ever have properly prepared for. Let me set the scene for you.

So, we’d been trapped in a storm at 11,000 feet for four days. Naturally, during that time, you’re gonna end up pooping in the middle of a blizzard. I don’t know how many of you have ever had the pleasure of this unique experience, but it’s really something special.

Now, maybe some of you are picturing some sort of nicely constructed outhouse-type situation. Let me just quickly disabuse you of that notion. It’s a bucket. Just a bucket, lined with a bag. Nothing more.

Hell, chances are your neighbor will probably walk by and see you in the act. Oh, they’ll turn their head, pretend they didn’t see you sitting there baring your soul for all the world to see. But they saw you, you know they did. And do you know how you know they saw you? Because you just saw them doing the exact same thing an hour ago.

This is one of the things they don’t exactly tell you before you climb Denali. It’s just people shitting, everywhere you look. Gonna go for a quick stroll to the edge of camp to check out the sunset? Oh, hey, look, it’s that guy you were talking to earlier…shitting on a bucket.

Anyway, I remember thinking to myself during this blizzard, “Wow, this is definitely the gnarliest situation that I could EVER see myself doing this in.” Well…apparently ole Mother Nature heard this and decided to call my bluff.

So there we were up around 19,000 feet. We had just turned a corner and come up past Zebra Rock. It was by far the most severe weather that we had climbed in thus far. It was maybe about -30F with 50 to 60-mph winds that day. It was the first and only time I wore my facemask balaclava. It was the only time I wore my down mitts while actually hiking. It was cold.

And then…there it was. Sometimes there’s just no way to say no. This was one of those times. I was searching around for a protected rock, a little gap somewhere, anything. Finally I found a sort of depression in the snow that afforded some “protection” from the wind.

You know when you’re camping somewhere and it’s really, really windy and you’re lying in your tent to go to sleep and the tent keeps shaking? How every so often, the wind will let up for a second, only to come roaring back? And each time you think to yourself, “I bet the wind’s over. It’s probably died down for the night.” But you know that’s not true. You know you’re just lying to yourself, and it’s going to come roaring back as soon as you’re about to fall asleep.

Well, I had a similar situation going on, except it wasn’t sleep I needed. I remember getting all unzipped, quite a feat actually with everything I had on, and waiting for that lull in the wind. As soon as it happened I was down. Everything was going well, I was making excellent time. In my oxygen-deprived, altitude-addled state I managed to tell myself, “I bet the wind’s over. It’s probably died down for the day.” And then, whoosh! The fiercest gust of all came sweeping over the snow and straight up my chimney.

I swear I pooped ice cubes for three days after that.

Want to learn more about what it took Casey and Bill to summit Denali? Checkout their hangout.