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April 2022 Issue
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Piles of human excrement are ruining this natural wonder

Earnslaw Burn is a popular spot to camp but many visitors don’t know how to toilet responsibly. Photo: Kerensa Clark

The rising popularity of Earnslaw Burn combined with the poor toileting habits of those visiting this area has created a human waste problem. By Kerensa Clark

here were 27 cars in the car park off Lovers Lane near Glenorchy on a sticky hot weekend in late summer. The occupants of the cars were all there for the same reason: to visit Earnslaw Burn.

The Burn has, in recent years, enjoyed growing popularity amongst trampers and day-hikers seeking a more ambitious trail with the promise of stellar views and the opportunity to camp beneath the stars and gargantuan glacier-formed rock walls.

The trail is an in-out track. The destination is a large open basin where the headwall containing the Earnslaw Glacier looms precariously over the valley floor. Giant ribbons of waterfalls cascade over the steep pitches of the valley walls, feeding into the Earnslaw Burn, the major water supply for visitors.

The track follows a reasonably technical route through the bush for several hours and water flowing off the mountains can provide fresh drinking water. 

Once out in the open of the lower valley, all the water stops had caught up with me and I needed to pee. I always take care when peeing in the outdoors; it is not so much about being seen, as it is about ensuring my ‘business’ will not end up in the local drinking water.

There is a general rule that you should ‘do your business’ at least 50m from the trail and any water source. Then comes the complication of toilet paper. Women will tend to use it for peeing, whereas men may not; and what to do with it? Simple, dig a small hole and bury it.

It’s the same rule for number twos, except definitely dig a hole and bury everything in it.

When I arrived at the spot where I had originally intended to camp, there was a small tent city and people everywhere doing their thing including their ‘thing’ without much regard to disposal of it. I was saddened to see toilet-papered poo piles reasonably close to the track and certainly not far enough away from the river. 

I found a comfortable flat spot close to the headwall to pitch my tent. For toileting, I was far enough away from both the river and anyone wandering around. Disturbingly, I found several places near the bush edge where other people had gone to the toilet, leaving behind wet wipes that do not easily break down. Some, semi-hidden beneath rocks, were hazards for others who might stumble upon them. 

The lack of care for not only other trampers but the gorgeous environment was disgusting. The new hazard of ‘watching your step’, now applied to the risk of human poo on the soles of your boots. 

So, how would Earnslaw Burn best be protected? Is it time for strategically located toilets in the valley? Or the introduction of a hut and a booking system that might limit visitor numbers and control toilet use.

I would prefer to see people learn how to safely dispose of their waste. If you cannot bury the poo, then use a poo bag and pack it out with you. Use leaves or compostable toilet paper (not bleached), to help break down the poo more quickly. Women could use ‘pee rags’ instead of toilet paper.

We all need to pee and poo, just try not to treat the outdoors as a toilet.

How to be a responsible pooper

  • Ensure you are at least 50m from both track and water source.
  • Do not use bleached toilet paper or wet wipes.
  • Dig a hole of at least 15cm deep to bury waste and toilet paper.
  • Pack it out if you can Use a pee rag.
  • Take a toilet trowel for digging the hole.