Does Poop Harm a Climbing Rope?

What to do when the unthinkable happens, and how to stay sanitary out at the crag.

By Rock and Ice | January 14th, 2013

I get to the crag (a popular roadside dig in Boulder Canyon) and we drop the rope at the base of the warm-up route. Like good climbers we flake the rope to make sure it is running smoothly from end to end. I tie in and start climbing. When I am 50 feet up, my belayer yells, “There’s some shit on the rope.” 

Shit. It is an ambiguous term. Shit, like dog shit? Shit like thistles or mud or sap? One way I care. The other I don’t.

“What kind of shit?” I yell back.

“Human shit,” he says and starts to dry heave. 

“Take!” I scream.

I appreciate the letter, Jesse, and, frankly, hope I never meet your friend and have to shake his hand. 

He lowers me and I can see vomit starting to well up in his mouth. The entire vicinity stinks like the inside of a dirty colon. He is looking at his hands and fidgeting to get the belay device off of his harness. His hands are smeared in brown and there is dooky soft-serve coating the belay device. When he lowered me, he had to keep a grip on the brake line thereby squeezing the shit from the rope as it passed through the belay device, then through the biners … so gross!

Here’s what happened. Some asshole took a big creamer right at the base of the route and covered it with a small rock. Our rope flipped the rock while we were flaking it. The rope then slithered through the pile while I was climbing. Since it is a route I know well, I was climbing fast. Before my partner realized it, about 30 feet of cord was covered in slop.

My question, Gear Guy, is: What the f?! Can you remind everyone how to build a proper poo poo platter? —Jesse Mattner, Boulder, Colorado

I appreciate the letter, Jesse, and, frankly, hope I never meet your friend and have to shake his hand. You can wash your own human cookie off, but getting someone else’s on you stains you like the mark of Cain. 

When my girls were little, my wife and I potty trained them by reading—every single night—the instructional book “Everyone Poops,” by the Japanese author Mina Unchain. In Japan, shitting your own bed is dishonorable. Seppuku!

But, here in the Western World, 300 million of us rise from bed every morning, waddle to the head, sit on a sparkling white porcelain chair and drop our business into a bowl of purified drinking water, water that a poor Somali girl would love to have, saving her a dusty five-mile trudge to the crocodile-infested bog. Then, with the flick of a handle, our turds spiral clockwise out of sight to a place unknown, managed by persons unknown.

Having someone else dispose of our “night soil” has trained us to believe that we can crap anywhere and someone else will deal with it, just as you and your buddy did.

I digress. Here, in detail is the lowdown for taking what my wife fondly calls a “wild dump.”

First, get way away from anywhere any person (or dog) might ever venture. Think dead center of a tick-infested nettle patch, the sort of spot only a penitent monk might seek. The base of the crag, anywhere within 100 feet of a trail or creek or lake are not kosher. Dig a hole at least six inches deep. Tree huggers say you should dig a shallower hole so the thermophilic bacteria in your fecal matter will have oxygen, heat up and kill pathogens, but I prefer to send my dregs straight to Satan’s house.

Now you are ready to “meet the governor.” After that, the wipe. If you have a girlfriend she will have toilet paper. If you are like everyone else, think corncob, Sears and Roebuck catalogue, mussel shell, newspaper or even a page from your precious guidebook.

Another unfortunate consequence of Western “civilization” is that we wipe and eat with the same hand. In climbing, this means that we wipe, then pull up rope and put it in our mouths with the same hand.

Lacking those, there are usually options such as rocks and leaves within a short toddle. The fuzzy, broad leaves of the Verbascum Thapsus are as effective as double-ply Charmin, so an unplanned tidy up isn’t always as desperate as it sounds. But when it is, there is still an option: a sock.

Fill in the hole. As a final security measure, I cover my Unholy Grail with a heavy rock or dead log.

Another unfortunate consequence of Western “civilization” is that we wipe and eat with the same hand. In climbing, this means that we wipe, then pull up rope and put it in our mouths with the same hand.

You’ve seen the movie “Six Degrees of Separation?” This is one degree of separation from stink eye to mouth. Wash your hands!

Poop management is an ancient struggle and the failure to properly deal has caused more deaths than even the bowline. But, give a crap and you can take one with discipline and HONOR!

You should note that this advice is only for when you are caught unaware, such as after eating anything at the Golden Corral. On trips where letting it fly isn’t a surprise, carry a stash of WagBags. These resealable plastic bags give you an instant toilet, wipe and hand cleaner, and have a chemical from NASA that makes your poop inert so you can throw the whole kit and kadookie in the trash when you get home, where it will go to a place unknown, managed by persons unknown.

One last bit of advice: If you meet someone wearing just one sock, do not shake his hand. Gear Guy has spoken!  

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