10 Year Anniversary of Grand Teton National Park Human Waste Pack Out Program
by Erin DeMarco, AAC Conservation and Advocacy Intern
The central massif of the Teton Range in Wyoming is an alluring destination for climbers and outdoor enthusiasts. Its ridgeline is symbolic; it’s the Manhattan skyline of the American West. The alpine and sub-alpine regions of Grand Teton National Park (GTNP) boast a near pristine ecosystem, where “the same species of flora and fauna that have existed since prehistoric times can still be found.”
According to the Grand Teton National Park Wilderness Climbing Ethics website (yes, it exists! tetonclimbingethics.blogspot.com), much of the mountainous high country of GTNP that we enjoy as climbers is “recommended wilderness.” Recommended wilderness is managed by the National Park Service as if it were Designated Wilderness (which is protected by Congress) in case Congress someday enacts the legislation necessary to include the area in the National Wilderness Preservation System. To this end, GTNP has educated its visitors in Leave No Trace techniques.
In the interest of the climbing community, the American Alpine Club is dedicated to preserving and protecting the mountains that we treasure. One of the Leave No Trace principles that the AAC is working to support in GTNP is that of disposing of human waste properly.
As climbers approach the rocky alpine region of GTNP, digging a cat hole to dispose of human waste isn’t possible, and when the temperature drops, the decomposition process slows down. In 2002, GTNP implemented a mandatory pack-it-out program in the Lower Saddle camp area above Garnet Canyon. By 2007, rangers, guides, and visitors alike embraced this model of pack-it-out, and the AAC saw the opportunity to expand the program to the popular Lupine Meadows trailhead, which many climbers and hikers use as a portal to the high country.
To accomplish this goal, the AAC received a grant from 1% for the Tetons, a local chapter of 1% for the Planet, which is an international coalition of businesses whose donations are put toward environmental organizations and their projects. Over forty local businesses in Jackson Hole and the surrounding areas donate one percent of their sales to 1% for the Tetons, which then aggregates the funds and grants them to projects whose aim is to sustain and better the Teton region. In 2007, a portion of these funds was granted to the AAC, and by 2008 the AAC was giving away Restop bags to climbers, hikers, campers, and other park visitors. The AAC was also able to use the funds to create informational signs on the importance of packing out human waste.
The program has been successfully administered by park rangers at the Jenny Lake ranger station, where Restop bags are given out free of charge, and where educational signs are posted. Restop bags are also available at the AAC’s Grand Teton Climbers’ Ranch in Moose, WY, which provides affordable and accessible lodging for climbers visiting GTNP. According to the May 2012 report, between 2,500-3,000 human waste bags are distributed each year to users around GTNP, and the Climbers’ Ranch will continue to give out waste bags in the 2013 season.
Not headed to the Tetons for your next climbing trip? Don’t forget to bring along your own waste bags. You can pack it out and protect pristine climbing areas wherever you choose to travel: visit the AAC online store to get Restop bags at the discounted member price.
The AAC is very proud of the progress so far, and of the partnership that has grown between climbers and Grand Teton National Park thanks to this project. Support for this endeavor from 1% for the Tetons was critical to getting the project off the ground, diverting human waste, protecting water sources from contamination, and maintaining the aesthetic integrity of GTNP. The use of human waste bags is also cost effective—the elimination of eight to twelve helicopter flights per season required to remove the toilet buckets from the Lower Saddle area being only one benefit of the pack-it-out model.
However, GTNP Ranger Scott Guenther, former AAC president Jim McCarthy, and AAC Conservation committee co-chair Ellen Lapham still note substantial concerns: program monitoring could be expanded to improve its implementation, and some bags are being forgotten or intentionally left behind which puts the natural habitat of the park’s wildlife at risk. For the future, the AAC hopes to secure long-term funding for the program through other sources, and especially encourages climbers to embrace the pack-it-out model by bringing their own waste disposal bags.
Photos courtesy Scott Guenther and the Rangers at Grand Teton National Park
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