I was on the last pitch of the day on of my first big wall, attempting to move upwards on a 5.12 awkward chimney which required a combination of knee-foot bracing, jamming and heavy breathing.
Ralph was patiently belaying from above, probably somewhat relieved we had reached the ledge before dark and definitely managing a fair amount of hanger (hungry anger…a potentially infectious disease brought about by lack of food and only cured by large intake of carb based nutrients).
But danger was lurking: throughout the pitch I became increasingly aware that I really needed the toilet. The presence of the very-chatty-couple climbing one pitch below was particularly concerning given that I didn’t think they’d be quite so friendly after I peed on their heads
Things grew worse. Instead of a nice wide flat surface with some absorbent shrubbery, the belay consisted of a wonky narrow ledge. Ralph, who’s hanger was getting to dangerous levels immediately decided to do battle with our borrowed porter ledge, which was behaving like one of those puzzles you get at Christmas where you have to assemble or disassemble metal rings with a lot of frustration and limited success.
After much battling and some team coordination we got the ledge up and I told Ralph that I really really needed to pee. The only place wide enough to do so was under the porter ledge, but as mentioned there was still the very-chatty-couple to contend with.
In urgency I grabbed the only appropriate container to hand, shoved the ledge out the way and had a very reliving pee into a disposable tupperware container. So now we had me, Ralph, a porter ledge and a warm tub of pee squeezed onto a rock about the size of one person lying down.
Ralph took charge and decided that said offensive container had to be moved out of the “cooking area”. Resourceful as ever, Ralph used a sling and a cam to secure the tub to a more wonky area of the rock where it stayed until the next day (apparently these are the kind of situations a PHD in engineering equips you for). Ralph smugly peed straight into his orange juice bottle.
Clearly, big wall climbing is not for those easily embarrassed by bodily functions.
Intrigued by how other women do I asked a few seasoned pros, expecting tales of successful bladder control. It was hilarious. One friend thought she was being really subtle waiting for a wide ledge only for the guy a couple of pitches below to shout ‘is someone peeing!!??’. Apparently the crack system behind the ledge opened nicely onto the hand jam he was climbing. She kept a couple of pitches ahead for the rest of the 5 day climb.
Another aid climber told me she had practiced using a she-wee at home only to find that using one with a full big wall rack wasn’t quite as easy and had ended up peeing all over her trousers…twice!! She said in future she’d go for the light rain sensation achieved when you squat against the wall.
Fortunately my second big wall climb wasn’t quite as traumatic. I started with a home fashioned device made out of a plastic milk bottle (a tip I’d picked up from my 68 year old male mountaineering instructor in NZ!!) however fortunately big ledges and a quiet route meant it remained unused. I did learn that it’s possible to pee off the side of a haul bag with only some difficulty, and off course that any desire for dignity is best left at home.
A final comment on pooing… The seasoned big wall climber uses special ‘wag-bags’ which contain odour neutralising cat litter, a wet wipe and ‘single serve’ portion of toilet paper. Post-use the bags are contained in a section of fully sealing plumbing pipe which is hung below the haul bag. Cheap British climbers use one gallon zip lock bags, buy ‘pack and stack’ plastic boxes from the supermarket and trust in a good quantity of duct tape to prevent disaster. As long as your aim is good, both options seem effective. Let’s just say that at one point a camera case had to be put in the washing machine….