Have you ever shit your pants at a national park?
A few years ago, I was hiking down from the top of Angels Landing in Zion National Park with my pal Mick, and I glanced down a gully dropping off the south side of the formation and saw a discarded plastic water bottle. Wanting to be a good steward of public lands, I scrambled down into the brush to grab the bottle so I could take it out to a trash can.
Mick held my daypack open, and I handed him the bottle so he could stuff it in. In the brush below that bottle was another plastic water bottle, so I handed that up to Mick too. Then another bottle. Then another one.
By the time I got to the seventh bottle, I made some comment to Mick like, Holy Shit, I guess this is where everyone throws their used water bottles. I was sure I’d get to #25 before I was done, and my pack was getting full. Then,
I stepped up and away from the bushes, and Mick said, “What’s up?”
“There’s a pair of underwear down here. Whitey-tighties.”
“Oh man,” Mick said.
“Yeah. I’m gonna leave them down here.” Stewardship only goes so far.
I recoiled and scrambled out of the gully and Mick and I discussed the logistics of someone planting a pair of underwear in the bushes there. Although I didn’t inspect them, it goes without question that a pair of underwear discarded in the bushes on top of a 1,500-foot-high fin of sandstone are 99% likely to be soiled. I mean, you just don’t remove a piece of clothing that you wear under your pants and throw them away unless something serious has happened to them. Seriously brown.
Maybe the guy got scared on the really exposed section of the chains over there, shit his pants and snuck down here to clean up, we theorized. Maybe there was a huge line at the vault toilet a few hundred feet away and he thought he’d just hold it, but somehow didn’t. Maybe this, maybe that, whatever the case, somebody had a bad day up here. It was like playing a game of Clue— “Colonel Mustard with the underwear in the bushes after the hangover and huevos rancheros,” et cetera.
One of the duties that falls on the desks of land managers across the country is managing human waste—blue bags on Mount Rainier, emptying the vault toilets on the Bright Angel Trail and transporting the contents out of the canyon on mules, deciding on a “pack it out” policy in Canyonlands. No national park website ever mentions what you should do if you poop in the least desirable place: the inside of your pants.
My girlfriend and I were at the end of a spur trail in the Devils Garden section of Arches National Park a few weeks ago, and both stepped away to find places to pee away from some of the crowds. The trail signs had said this section of trail led to something called the “Dark Angel,” whatever that was—the rest of the trail led from magnificent sandstone arch to magnificent sandstone arch. This trail stopped at a black monolith that, while impressive, was less amazing than the collection of arches we had seen. Well, do you suppose that’s the Dark Angel, I asked as I walked over to a wash behind a juniper to do my business.
Walking back to the trail from behind a boulder, Hilary said she had noticed something in the dirt behind the boulder, and upon double-taking, realized it was a pair of men’s underwear, describing it as quite weathered and sandy, with an obvious non-underwear-esque volume inside. Like a sandbag with a waistband.
We laughed a little, and discussed possible scenarios: she imagined a poor guy on one of his first-ever hikes having a worst-case scenario, then running off behind the boulder to hide the evidence. I put forth a couple theories, moreso imagining the pants-pooper as an unlikable character so we could feel better making some jokes about the situation.
As we headed back down the trail toward more impressive scenery, I asked Hilary,
“Do you think what you found behind the boulder was the Dark Angel?”
Or, apparently the guy was way more overwhelmed by the beauty of the Dark Angel than we were.