Human Waste Management on the Whitney Trail – An Update

News Release

Inyo National Forest

Contacts: Nancy Upham (760) 873-2427


Bishop, CA (July 17, 2007) - This summer climbers on Mt. Whitney got an early start due to the fact that the snow pack was so much less than normal. As they have the past few summers, climbers are showing themselves more than willing to do their part in helping manage the human waste situation on Mt. Whitney by utilizing WAG bags to pack out their own human waste. What began as a voluntary experiment is now a fully implemented program of human waste management, and the non-functioning toilets have been removed.

From an historical perspective, it was in 1873 that John Muir first climbed Mount Whitney. Over 100 years later, on the east side of the Sierra Nevada the Whitney Trail cuts through a place we now call the John Muir Wilderness. On the west side, access to the 14,497 foot summit is gained through the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park Wilderness. Each year 16,000 people attempt to climb Mt. Whitney from the east-side and an additional 4,000 from the west.

For decades the Forest Service has been challenged with managing the disposal of human waste produced by this large number of climbers. Toilets have been in place along the Whitney Trail since the 1960s. Despite several renovations and retro-fits, the dehydrating toilets never functioned very well. Each year a helicopter was needed to fly out 4,000 pounds of human waste. Both helicopters and toilet buildings compromised the integrity of the area's wilderness character.

In 2004, a voluntary pack-out program was instituted. Whitney climbers were asked to pack their human waste to Whitney Portal Trailhead using pack-out kits, also known as WAG Bags. In 2006, climbers voluntarily packed out 3,600 pounds of their human waste. With the success of this pack out program, there is now a safe and sanitary way for each individual to deal with their own human waste.

In 2006, Forest Service rangers removed the non-functioning toilet at Outpost Camp and Park Service rangers removed the toilet near the summit. This year the Forest Service removed the Trail Camp toilet and now all climbers are required to pack their waste to the trailhead. A demonstrated caring for the integrity of this unique public resource and cooperation between climbers and rangers has resulted in making an incredible place even better.

"I want to thank the Whitney climbers and rangers for helping find a solution to the human waste challenge. I think we now have a system that is workable for today as well as into the future," said District Ranger Garry Oye. "John Muir himself would be proud of this great cooperative effort between climbers, Forest Service rangers and Park Service rangers," said Wilderness Coordinator Gregg Fauth.

For additional information, please contact Garry Oye, District Ranger, Inyo National Forest at (760) 873-2464 or Gregg Fauth, Wilderness Coordinator, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks at (559) 565-3137.