Number ones and number twos

People sometimes ask how you go to the toilet in Antarctica. Laser Dave, who took me out on the field trip, said he always answers “Quickly!” But I suspect that’s not enough detail for the truly curious.

If you’re not truly curious, stop reading now.

You’re not allowed to leave human waste out in the field, as the temperatures are so cold that it takes years for organic material to break down. So you can’t just dig a hole and bury it like you could on a normal camping trip. And you have to deal with number ones and number twos in different ways on a field trip, which makes it all kind of interesting.

Number ones: you can pee straight into a pee bottle, which is a bit easier for the blokes. Women are issued a female urinary device (affectionately known as a FUD), which is a kind of soft funnel with a tube that allows you to pee standing up, and presumably direct it into a pee bottle. However I heard a rumour that the failure rate (however you define failure in this instance) is about 90%, so I’m not sure how popular they are. It’s OK to pee in the sea water, so at this time of year when it’s not tooo cold, women and men both go looking for a tide crack, which is an opening in the sea ice, and try to direct it down there. Your bum gets pretty cold when crouching over a tide crack, but it’s not too bad as long as the wind doesn’t blow up unexpectedly while you’re crouching (or standing) and ruin your sense of direction.

Number twos: these are taken back to the station and incinerated. You definitely can’t leave a poo outside anywhere. Some of the field huts have toilets, which generally consist of a can with a seat on the top and a black plastic bag lining the can. When you’ve finished you tie up the bag and remove it and put a clean one in for the next person (or if you’re not too fussy about it, shake some Johnson’s Baby Powder into the can and bag the whole lot up together at the end, which saves on the plastic). The bags go back to the station and get thrown into Warren (or is it Wayne?) the incinerator. But if there’s urine in the bag, obviously it’s much harder to burn it. So you have to plan your foray and make sure you do ones and twos separately. For women menstruating the same things apply – you need to put tampons or pads into bags and return them for incinerating.

Some guys recently built a new toilet at Platcha Hut and they’re incredibly proud of it. I could see why once I used it. There’s a skylight at the top and a window high up in the door so you can look out, plus it’s painted sunflower yellow and is very close to the main door of the hut so you don’t have to go far. Before that you had to go right outside to another little building.

Platcha hut with the yellow toilet on the right

I don’t think Bandit’s Hut had a toilet, and the little apple and melon huts that people sometimes stay in don’t have them either. In that case you take a can and toilet seat with you and presumably set it up somewhere outside if it’s not too cold, or in the cold porch if it’s really cold.

Or if there’s no cold porch and there’s a blizzard and you’re in a little apple hut, I guess you have to ask your companion to step outside for a while or turn their back and you get on with it right there in the living area. I forgot to ask Dave how this works.

Apple hut

Inside an apple hut

I can imagine it might be a bit tricky in some circumstances. But at least you’re all in the same boat. More or less.

Eight metre swells forecast for late tonight and tomorrow. Yikes. This time I’m going to wedge the mattress on the floor between the bunks.

Love Jesse xxx

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About Jesse Blackadder

Living at the easternmost tip of Australia on the caldera of an extinct volcano, Jesse Blackadder is a novelist, freelance writer and Doctor of Creative Arts. She is fascinated by landscapes, adventurous women and very cold places and has published three adult novels and three novels for children.
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