It can be an awkward conversation to have, but if you’ve never been on a Grand Canyon river trip or other similar adventure, you may have NO IDEA how you’re going to use the bathroom on your trip!
Since it can be an embarrassing conversation for some folks, we thought we’d give you the run down here and let you ask us follow up questions directly if you have any.
One of the most challenging things for those who manage popular outdoor destinations can be keeping them free from human impacts, including human waste (both natural and manufactured). In the backcountry of Grand Canyon, there are no developed rest stops of any kind, so there are a few guidelines we follow to make sure the park stays pleasant for everyone who visits:
1. Pee in the river
The National Park Service has evaluated all the options and determined that the best way to get rid of human liquid waste is to put it directly into the main channel of the river. With the volumes of fast moving water, it will quickly dilute to levels that are not harmful. (This is not the case if visitors to the canyon urinate on the beaches or in the side canyon creeks which support much more delicate ecosystems.)
2. Pack out solid waste
Although in some less frequented backcountry areas, burying human waste may be acceptable, there are simply too many people traveling through the bottom of Grand Canyon for this to be feasible. So, each of our trips brings its own primitive toilets called “groovers” which we pack out of the canyon at the end of the trip and empty at an approved waste disposal facility.
How to Use the Bathroom on a Hatch Trip
Take advantage of “pit stops”
Every hour or two your trip will make a stop. Often this is to go on an adventurous hike up a side canyon, to play on a riverside beach, or to relax and enjoy a delicious lunch, but sometimes it is just to give everyone a chance to relieve themselves. You should be drinking enough water and other fluids on your trip that you need to take advantage of just about every stop.
“Skirts up, pants down”
You might hear the guides use this catch phrase to indicate which direction you should go during a pit stop to remain with a bathroom group of your same gender. It might feel a little awkward at first trotting off in a group to all go pee, but in the backcountry, you do what you must. It gets less awkward with time, and like with many other inconveniences about spending an extended time camping in the backcountry, it is worth it to have access to such an amazing place as Grand Canyon.
Note: If you are transgender or non-binary, we encourage you to do what makes you most comfortable whether that is going with the group that you feel is a best fit, walking a little further down or up the beach to have a bit more privacy, or talking to the guides about another alternative.
Use assistive tools if you need them
Peeing in the river is not always the most convenient thing—especially for women, especially when it is cold. We include on our recommended packing list something called a female urinal or “pee pod.” It essentially acts as a slightly more sophisticated funnel allowing women to pee in a more upright position from shallow water or even the shore and to direct their urine into the river.
Some of our guests have even come up with their own creative solutions such as wearing rubber boots on cold weather trips to keep their feet dry at pit stops or bringing disposable containers they use at night and then empty into the river when it’s light out.
Talk to your guides
If you need a pit stop while on the river, let your guides know. They have a signal to let the other boats on the trip know a stop is requested. (They point to their armpits, get it?) Bear in mind that it could be some time before your trip can reach a suitable spot, so let them know sooner rather than later.
Use the groover in camp
Whether they call it “the groover,” “the porto,” or just “the toilet,” the guides on your trip will scout out a private, secluded location for the portable toilet (or toilets) on your trip. Typically these will be at the far ends of your campsites. We recommend scouting out the toilet location in the daylight so if you have to find it after the sun goes down, you already know where to look. The groover is generally the first thing set up in camp and the last thing taken down in the morning, so that everyone has ample time to use it while in camp. Along with the toilet itself, we provide toilet paper and some cleaning supplies.
The groover is basically a box with some chemical in the bottom and a toilet seat attached. It must be carried to and from the boats every time we set up and take down camp, so by the end of a trip, it starts to get heavy. We ask that as much as possible the toilets be kept “dry,” meaning that if possible, you should avoid urinating in them. We know that for some people separating those bodily functions can be difficult and that sometimes at night accessing the river can be treacherous, so use your best judgement and use the toilet if you need to.
Wash your hands!
In addition to the toilet itself, your guides will set up a hand washing station near the start of the path to the groover. It is imperative that you wash your hands after each and every time you use the toilet on your trip to avoid potentially spreading disease such as norovirus.
Follow the key system for privacy
To make sure everyone can tell whether the camp restroom is occupied or not, we use a “key” system. There will be an item (often a bucket) placed by the hand washing station that you will bring with you if you go to use the toilet and then return when you are finished. If that item is not by the hand wash, you know that the restroom is occupied. Just don’t forget to bring back the key item—it’s like leaving the bathroom door locked behind you when you leave.
Use WAG bags when not in camp
When you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go, but if you’re not in camp, you won’t have access to a toilet. We have a solution for that. When you’re at a pit stop, ask your guides for a WAG bag. These are bags specifically designed for human waste disposal in the backcountry. It is essentially just a plastic bag with a small amount of chemical in the bottom. Find a secluded area, do your business into the bag, seal it up, and give it to the guides who will store it and dispose of it properly after the trip. If you have a medical condition, reaction to medication, or another reason you expect to routinely need WAG bags throughout the trip, let us know in advance and we can provide you with a supply of them that you can keep with your day gear.
If you are menstruating
About the least convenient place to get your period is on a backcountry camping trip, but trust us, it happens all the time and can be very manageable if you are prepared. Here’s what you should bring:
When your trip makes a pit stop, bring your kit of supplies with you and ask your group for a little extra privacy. Change your tampon, empty your menstrual cup, or do whatever else you may need to do depending on the products you are using. Clean up using your disposable wipes and put all used products, packaging, wipes, etc. that need to be disposed of into one of the small ziplock bags. Then, put your ziplock bag of waste products into the normal trash on the boat. (It should also be safe to store with your day gear if you don’t have immediate access to the trash.)
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In our normal lives, most of us don’t think much about how/when/where we’ll have access to a bathroom, so when you book a Grand Canyon river trip, you may come up with questions you never thought to ask before. We hope we’ve covered the bases for you here, but if you have any further concerns, don’t hesitate to contact our office. We’ll talk through whatever questions you have and make sure you are confident and ready to go on the river!