Patagonia Waste Management Project

Campaign Details

Responsable LAO: Acceso PanAm
Land Status: Public
Patagonia Waste Management Project

PWM-logo-webAccess PanAm’s Patagonia Waste Management seeks solutions for human waste in the Chaltén Massif and we need you support

Chaltén is home to what is, arguably, the most sought out alpine climbing area in the world. The aesthetic, inspiring Fitz Roy ridgeline along with Cerro Torre’s impressive, remarkable shape attract not only climbers, but hikers and tourists from all over the world. With an increase in media attention, easy forecast accessibility, and growth of infrastructure, the numbers of climbers, visitors, hikers, and tourists has increased exponentially in the last few years, putting some pressure on the fragile ecosystem. The lack of a human waste management solution at base camps and campgrounds results in poor disposal methods or long-term cumulative effects, which has the potential to cause social and environmental impacts. Acceso PanAm, along with a team of volunteers led by climbing guide Steffan Gregory, is looking forward to carefully seeking solutions with the park for the massif by starting with the most affected areas.The project aims to build and test the toilet through March 2016.

We need you help to make this work!

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* We need to fly 4 people from the Las Vegas, NV to El Calafate, Argentina. Each plane ticket requires about 55-80k miles (to Buenos Aires), depending on airline and availability. Send us an e-mail, and we will help you figure it out the entire process.
** Heading down to El Chaltén? Help us to build the test toilet this year. Send us an e-mail, letting us know about your trip schedule and availability. You can also help us bring some materials down to Patagonia – if you can bring a few pieces of the toilet equipment, let us know. It’s not much and it will be of great help.

Understand the Project

What Why When Who Where

What: To find a sustainable, simple, inexpensive option to manage human waste in a location that is cold, remote, and has no septic systems or transport via helicopter sling loads. The team will be in  implementing a test vermi-composting toilet this January.

Why: Human feces can create human health issues through direct contact with the pathogens or indirect contact with contaminated water. Socially, feces can cause negative reactions on climbers and non-climbers who come in contact with improperly disposed human waste (Cilimburg, Monz and Kehoe 2000 upon Access Fund, 2008). Bottom line: there is a need for preventive care. The designing and implementation of a waste management solution for the popular base camps is just what is needed. The park system (Administración de Parques Nacionales) is aware of this issue, but they lack the funds, personnel, and knowledge to create such a solution. Moreover, considering the park’s budget and personnel restrains, it is essential to create a solution that is economically feasible, low maintenance, and provide a long-term solution to the area.

When: The test season will take place this climbing season (Dec 2015 – Mar 2016). The project will be divided into a few steps; the first one, designing and testing a test piece in El Chaltén, is the scope of first year/season and this proposal. The short-term, first step of the project (the pilot study) will start in December of 2015 and run through March of 2016. This first season will focus on implanting a test version of a urine diversion / vermicomposting toilet in one popular wilderness campground in Los Glaciares National Park, El Chaltén, Argentina. With the results from this test piece, we aim at creating the best possible waste management solution for popular base camps of the El Chaltén massifs, considering the Patagonian environmental, political, and financial context.

Who: A team of passionate climbers looking to make a difference in Chaltén Massif this coming December. Our main volunteers are:
Steffan Gregory, Project Coordinator – Steffan is a climbing and canyoneering guide based in Southern Utah working on through the IFMGA Certification in the United States. Steffan’s six years of guiding in various environments have shown him the importance of caring for the lands we use. Steffan has three years experience working logistics for a Seattle based guide service. In addition to logistics Steffan has organized small film projects and ski expeditions in Canada’s Purcell Mountains. Steffan currently lives and guides in and around Zion National Park for Zion Mountain School. 
Geoff Hill Phd
Geoff has received his Phd from the University of British Columbia where he studied pathogen destruction through various aerobic treatment systems, conducting extensive fieldwork around North American and Europe. He has also completed his Masters and Bachelor of Science at UBC on soil microbial response and plant growth as a result of climate change in the Tundra. Dr. Hill has taught courses at the University of Alberta and University of British Columbia on Climatology, Environmental Science, Statistics and Biology. Geoff has also published five papers on composting and pathogen destruction in Waste Management, Journal of Environmental Management, and Journal of Sustainable Development. Read more about Geoff and his excellent work on his website.
Alan Thorne – Alan is an instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). He has co-instructed on a number of courses in the Pacific Northwest. Alan comes from nearly 15 years of carpentry and has learned that climbing and carpentry are very complimentary. Carpentry is an amazing metaphor for climbing. From custom cabinetwork to home building Alan’s skills as a builder are limitless. He most recently has managed a crew constructing the largest bouldering gym in the world, as well as the Seattle Bouldering Project, a sizeable gym in it’s own right. His skills in team management and carpentry are invaluable. Alan’s amazing attitude, contagious laugh and strong climbing ability keep any long trip worth staying on. Alan is also a Wilderness First Responder.
Rachel Mangan – Rachel graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in Environmental Science and Resource Management and focused in Wildlife Conservation. With her knowledge and desire to protect the beautiful landscapes and ecosystems, she has worked for the past five years collecting data, conducting visitor surveys and managing field technicians in various U.S. National Parks and National Forests. These projects help gain insights to visitor use patterns as well as evaluate overcrowding issues that negatively impact the ecosystem of the parks and forests.
Ethan Newman – Since graduating in 2013 from Prescott College with a  degree in Adventure Education, Ethan has been a climbing and canyoneering guide, arborist, wild land fire fighter, and writer. Each of these roles has shaped Ethan’s view of the landscape, as well as his view of how we impact it. Ethan currently lives in Springdale, Utah.

WhereLos Glaciers National Park, El Chaltén, Argentina. See map.
Established in 1985 to help secure the disputed border with Chile, El Chaltén is a young town. Though, this doesn’t mean it is small. There are over 1500+ people over 20 restaurants and a multitude of hotel, camping and other 5 star options. This mountain village is located in the Santa Cruz Province, Argentina, in the riverside of Río de las Vueltas, within Los Glaciares National Park; and at the base of Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy massifs, both popular for climbing.
The access is incredible. Trailheads taking you into the iconic mountains leave from either side of town. The granite monoliths shoot into view the second you leave the door and dominate the skyline of this remote town. You don’t have to be a climber to appreciate the beauty of these towers. In fact, it holds the title of “Argentina’s Hiking Capital” and Lonely Plant will feature it as the second best place in the world to visit in 2015. The area is compromised of two prominent rock fins, the Fitz Roy Massif and The Torre Massif. Cerro Chaltén, more commonly known as Cerro Fitz Roy, was initially named by the Tehuelche. The Tehuelche were the native people of the area. Cerro Chaltén means “smoking mountain.” The name Fitz Roy came from an expedition led by Francisco Pascasio Moreno. The name Fitz Roy was given to honor the captain of the HMS Beagle in its 1830 surveying voyage of Patagonia.
Climbing in the area dates back to 1916. The summits were some of the smaller in the massif but were major accomplishments for the time. The 1930’s brought more significant expeditions with the first serious attempts at Cerro Fitz Roy. The 1950’s marked a major number of ascents. Famed mountaineer and writer Lionell Terray and team made the first ascent of Fitz Roy. Walter Bonatti and Carlo Marui made the first serious attempt at Cerro Torre, just after Terray’s expedition. Ceasar Maestri’s major forays into the range are well recorded and the 1970’s brought the controversial “Compressor Route” to Cerro Torre. The escalation of exploration continues in the range. The last three decades have marked a growth in the number of climbers and routes in the area. The style is moving farther and farther away from the expeditions of old and into faster and bolder attempts in these great mountains. The last two seasons are no exception to the evolution of completing the impossible.
The general backcountry camping areas sit along various locations in these to massifs. De Agostini (also known as Bridwell) sits between the two massifs on Laguna Torre. Capri is situated on the Fitz Roy side near the waters of Laguna Capri. There are two camps that sit right front and center of the Fitz Roy and those are Poincenot and Río Blanco (this last one is a climbers-only camping site). All of these sites are commonly used backpacking and trekking areas. The climbing base camps are located just above all of these popular campgrounds nearer the bases of the spires. The most popular base camps being Nipponino, Paso Superior and Piedra Negra. These camps are all located in alpine environments and yield a physical challenge, geographic challenge or both in getting to them.

ToiletHow: By understanding the range of urine diversion technologies and the challenges associated with importation into the region, we have selected a urine-diverting design that is not patented, can be produced locally, and has been proven at a high use National Park in Alaska, a sort of similar climate to what is found in Chaltén’s Massifs. The diversion of urine from fecal matter is an essential component in advanced human waste management, especially at higher use sites (Hill & Henry, 2013; Hill & Baldwin, 2012; (NPS (Denali National Park and Preserve), 2014). The vast majority of human waste is urine. If urine mixes with fecal matter, ammonia levels increase to inhibitory levels, decomposition stops, and strong foul odors are produced. Urine must be diverted at the source, prior to mixing with fecal matter.  When urine is diverted at the source, it can be effectively treated by native soil. Fecal matter, in the absence of urine, can be consumed by invertebrates.  The invertebrates greatly reduce the volume, mass, and pathogens. They stabilize the material and do all the mixing. This results in a low O&M, no-hassle, operationally safe high-use public toilet system.  The end-product may still have highly resistant pathogens such as hookworm ova should have final sanitization step prior to being land applied.  Material may also have trash in it which would need to be pulled out prior to land-application.  Alternatively, this material, when greatly reduced in mass and volume, can be extracted for disposal (every 10-20 years). During the pilot study, we will collect four samples from the bin and send them to a lab to be tested for moisture, pH, nitrate, ammonia, E. coli, and levels of fecal coliforms. Our goal is to understand if local Patagonian worms will act reducing the bacteria levels in raw human waste, and in what percentage. Read more about this technology here: Toilet Tech.

This project would not be possible with out the gracious support of the Patagonia Conservation Grant, Black Diamond Equipment, Zach Martin Breaking Barriers Grant, Toilet Tech Solutions, and motivated climbers like you! 

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