billi bierling female mountaineer and journalist from Germany

Pee bottles and other toilet issues

The daily ritual of emptying the pee bottle

The daily ritual of emptying the pee bottle

As we have yet another day in paradise without much happening climbing-wise, I thought I should enlighten my readers about how mountaineers cope with “calls of nature” in the middle of the night, during bad weather, or just in general.

I have been climbing in the Himalaya for about ten years and I have never made use of the so called “pee bottle”. I never thought I would be capable of using it as I am quite clumsy and I had always been worrying about messing up my tent or my sleeping bag. And on top of that I am actually quite fortunate as I normally do not have to go to the toilet in the middle of the night. However, when I was at Camp 3 on Everest and there was nowhere to go to relief myself, Ellen advised me to convert my fine Nalgene water bottle into a pee bottle. I felt a bit apprehensive about it at the beginning but after having had a look outside and seeing the precipitation and the wind that was raging around Camp 3, I decided that it would actually be safer to pee into my water bottle. Ellen taught me how to wrap my sleeping bag around myself (probably very helpful when I will be sharing a tent with a bloke), put the bottle in the right place and just ‘go for it’. I was amazed by how easy it was (I think I am quite a natural) and I cannot believe that it took me ten years and an American female climber to teach me to appreciate the beauty of the pee bottle – so, thank you very much, Ellen. It now also saves me having to get up in the morning when I want to stay in my warm sleeping bag for another half an hour – I just grab my bottle and do my business!

Of course, the use of it is much easier for men (some of them claim they are ‘liers’ – others are ‘kneelers’), and if you are wondering what a pee bottle actually is, it is nothing more than a usual water bottle or other receptacle with a wide opening, in which people relief themselves when they are stuck in their tents. Every morning the men or our expedition crawl out of their tents with their differently shaped bottles containing yellow liquid in different shades, which they empty into the toilet. Of course, there have been many tales about people confusing their pee bottles with their water bottles, but I guess so far nobody has been killed by drinking out of their pee bottle – and if you consider that some people drink a liter of their own urine a day in order to fend off health problems, it cannot be so bad.

Another great thing we have on our expedition, are the so- called ‘Wag Bags’. I am sorry to be focusing on toilet issues today but I guess these things are quite essential when you are climbing in the High Himalaya. At base camp and Camp 2 (we have not really used Camp 1) we have proper toilet tents, which are equipped with a barrel into which people do their businesses, however, higher up such facilities are impossible to set up. It is very important to take human waste down from higher up as it does not disintegrate up there due to the high altitude and the cold, however, most expeditions just find a rock – which is not easy up there – to relief themselves. If you consider that there are about 350 western climbers plus about as many Sherpas on the mountain, you can imagine how bad the situation can get up there.

Russell and I spoke about this issue before the expedition and I contacted “Wag Bag” and asked them whether they could provide us with their plastic bags that are actually biodegradable themselves. It may seem absolutely impossible to some people to bring down their own human waste, however, these bags contain some powder that breaks down the waste and stops it from smelling. I am very happy that we are using these bags as it means that the Himex Team will not contribute to the human waste problem higher up on the mountain. As the bags are biodegradable, we can just put them into our toilet barrel at base camp when we come down the mountain.

On a different note, Russell told us yesterday when the different groups (he divided us into two groups) will move up the mountain. I cannot disclose the exact date, however, it is great to finally have a day we can aim for. We have been separated into two different groups and I am fortunate enough to be in the first division, which is the faster one and called ‘the Yaks’. After such a long waiting period it is weird to finally know when we will be tackling the highest mountain in the world and even though I am more than excited about it, I am also very apprehensive as I am feeling very humble towards Chomolungma.

I am not scared of the mountain and I am sure it will be kind to me, however, the only thing I am worried about are my fingers and toes. I know I am very susceptible to the cold and even though I have been talking to experienced people about when frostbite sets in, all they usually say is that it is too late once your hands or feet stop being cold. Having a very high pain threshold I am not sure whether my body will tell me in time, however, one David Tait, who summited on 5th May and left the expedition over one week ago, gave me his battery-driven foot warmers and I hope they will keep my toes nice and warm.

I may not have time to write another entry before I enter the icefall one more time to conquer the summit of Chomolungma, so if you do not hear from me for a while I will probably be on my summit push. Some of my team members are updating their sites during their summit attempt so if you click on the HIMEX sign on my website it will also lead you to my members’ sites.

So long!

20 Responses

  1. Andrea said on May 22, 2009 at 1:30 am

    How fabulous – you’ve made it to the very top – CONGRATULATIONS!!!
    Wishing you a “piece-of-cake feeling” on the way down!
    Big hug, Your chica A. xxx

    Reply
  2. Daniel Hennessy said on May 21, 2009 at 11:59 am

    Good luck Billi, hopefully you have now stood on top of the world!! Please send my regards to Stuart Carder, a good friend. Dan and tammy, Oxford UK.

    Reply
  3. Ingrid said on May 20, 2009 at 2:27 am

    Dear Billi! Good luck up there! It has been great to follow you! Stay safe and warm! Big hug, Ingrid

    Reply
  4. tinchen, johanna&juerg said on May 18, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    liebe billi, du schaffst das, pass auf dich auf und bring alle deine finger und zehen wieder heil mit heim.
    ganz viel glück und wir denken fest an dich. dein tinchen, johanna & juerg

    Reply
  5. icyD said on May 18, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    Nice blog, wishing you All the best… and a safe return.

    Strange article, ever heard of poop tubes, they’re used when climbing stone walls? cheers and take care

    Reply
  6. Steffi said on May 18, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    She might be at Camp 2 now… ?!

    Reply
  7. binita said on May 18, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    Wow..!!!Billi this is really fun.I had so many queries regarding Everest and your everest diary is clearing up everthing in my mind..God it is so exciting!Love you….Best wishes!
    Binita

    Reply
  8. TINA said on May 16, 2009 at 7:46 pm

    Go for it….Chomolungma is waiting for you. Be safe and keep you warm!!!!!

    Reply
  9. rich said on May 16, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    Ehy billi, in Namche and doing my best to get up to see you as quickly as possible. hope I don’t miss you! Best of luck. To the summit and safe return!
    x rich

    Reply
  10. Baba said on May 16, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    Good luck, thinking of you lots! hug baba

    Reply
  11. Wanda said on May 16, 2009 at 4:27 am

    Billi, congratulations on getting this far (and I am not referring to the pee bottle although that is definitely something to be proud of).

    Travel safely and remember you are only halfway there when you get to the top….Hugs from Wanda didi

    Reply
  12. Andrea said on May 16, 2009 at 1:00 am

    How exciting!! Good luck for your summit push! Stay healthy and strong and return safely!!!
    Andrea xxx

    Reply
  13. Colin said on May 15, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    Re pee bottles – too much info!!!

    Be carefull up there.

    Reply
  14. Bethan said on May 15, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    Goood luck, khushi lagyo xxxxx

    Reply
  15. Chris said on May 15, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    Climbers discussion has four topics,
    what goes in
    what goes out
    what goes in and out
    and of course, the summit push. Be well, Climb High, Climb Hard, Come Home!!!

    Reply
  16. jayne ives said on May 15, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    Hi Billi
    I’ve been following your great blog and wanted to wish you good luck. Could you also tell Stuart (Carder) we’ll be thinking about him on the summit push hope he succeeds and returns safely. Take care
    Jayne Ives

    Reply
  17. Craig said on May 15, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Good luck up there Billi… wishing you a fast and safe climb- Craig

    PS
    Greetings to Russell, Henry, Dean, Mark and any other friends you run into…

    Reply
  18. Declan said on May 15, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    Come on the Yaks!! Best of luck Billi – may the best wishes and thoughts of countless friends be with you on your imminent adventure! Up and down, swiftly and safely. Best of luck and looking forward to seeing you soon.
    Smile,
    d.

    Reply
  19. Nonna said on May 15, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    Fab news, cannot wait to see the pics from the summit! Don’t freeze your toes, fingers or your bony bum for that matter.. oh and Judy wants to add the bony knees to that list. Come back in one piece and don’t forget the photo! Thinking of you and good luck!!

    Reply
  20. Steffi said on May 15, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    Wohooo! I’ll keep my fingers crossed and wish you best of luck!! Be safe Yaks!

    Concerning your last blog issues … what‘s a woman doing when “it happens” when she’s on the rope?? I mean even the little nature calls might be easy to perform for us women?! What are you doing on summit day when you’re on the go for hours?

    Take care! Steffi

    Jeez, exciting…

    Reply

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