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  • Writer's pictureLibby Bushell

How to Poop in the Sub-Arctic Tundra

On Emerald Air Service expeditions to the Katmai Bush, after a scenic flight, you’ll land in the remote Alaskan wilderness without a man-made facility in sight. There, you’ll spend the next five hours on a guided nature hike while you observe and photograph the wildest inhabitants of Planet Earth: the Coastal Alaskan Brown Bear, ursus arctos.

But oh no, now you’ve got to go (number two).

This too is natural and your naturalist guide is equipped with everything you need to do your business comfortably, in the safest possible manner, and in a way that leaves no trace.

We practice Leave No Trace principles in order to preserve the pristine habitat of Katmai. We do not want to contaminate the rivers, lakes and streams that feed the bears. We do not want to spread zootropic diseases to the local flora or fauna, and we do not want to leave behind poo and toilet paper and poorly-dug catholes in the tough tundra soil. What is stinky to us could be interesting to a bear, and so in the sub-arctic tundra, we pack out what we pack in.

Here is how we practice the 7 D’s of Dumping in the Sub-Arctic Tundra:

1. The first D is Desire. You’re feeling it, you’ve got to go, and now it’s all about timing. Long before it’s an emergency moment, let your guide know you’ve got the desire. They’ve pooped in the wilderness well over a hundred times and they’re comfortable talking about it, being discreet, and initiating you into this prestigious activity. They will help you with D nos. 2, 3, and 4.

2. The second D is Distance. In a typical backcountry setting, where we would dig a

cathole, we do our business 200 feet from fresh water sources, trails or campsites. In

Katmai however, where bears are all around us, we like to keep the group closer together than 200 feet. Your guide will help you find a spot that’s close to the group but as private as possible. This might be closer to water than usual because we’re not digging holes, we’re using wag bags and packing it out, which brings us to…

3. The third D is Devices. Your guide will give you a wag bag, extra wipes, hand sanitizer and an air horn. They’ll teach you how to use each item.

4. The fourth D is Double-Bag it. In a different type of terrain, this D would stand for Dig, but your guides have first-hand knowledge of trying (and maybe failing) to dig through the tough, rooty subarctic soil and they’ll tell you that the pack-it-out method is

immeasurably better. A wag bag is a system designed for places where we cannot leave

our poop. It is used in river canyons, high alpine areas, densely populated trails (like

Moraine Creek), and even at music festivals in the front country, where the outhouse line can be longer (and significantly less fun) than the beer line. The wag bag is a double-bag system that contains a NASA-developed gelling agent, which deodorizes and renders inert the bad bacteria in fecal matter and gels up to 32 oz of liquid waste. Your guide will show you how to position the bag and how to seal it up when you’re done. Don’t forget that your TP and wipes go in with your business before you seal the bag!

5. The fifth D is the reason for this post: Dump. You might say Defecate or Do Your

Business, or Drop Your Kids off at the Pool. You might have other D-words for what

you’re doing, but the point is, everybody Does it and it’s not embarrassing or gross. It’s


6. The sixth D is Disguise. Everybody carries their own waste in and out of Katmai. Once you’ve sealed your wag bag properly, the poo will become inert, the smell will be

minimized, the puncture-proof bag will not leak and you’ll carry it in your own backpack on the rest of your journey and all the way back to Homer, where you can discreetly dispose of it in a trash can. You are a ninja, a master of disguise.

7. The seventh D is Disinfect. Your guide will give you their hand sanitizer as part of your poop kit and once you’ve sealed up your wag bag, use it. Then, return your sanitizer, any unused wipes and the bear horn back to your guide and continue to enjoy the best day of your life.

If you’d like to learn more about Leave No Trace, and how to poop in other remote areas (including less-trafficked areas of Katmai), check out Leave No Trace, or the LNT page of the Katmai website.



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