Outhouse on the Icefield

Outhouse on the Icefield

Tae Hamm, Lawrence University

 

    As one who has volunteered for outhouse cleaning more than any 2016 JIRP participants thus far, I am quite keen on the politics behind outhouses; you MUST flip the sign to “occupied”, “Het”(Russian for “No”) or simply “No” and you MUST lock the door once you are done with the business. Inside, you MUST remember that we are not technically in a restroom, but rather an outhouse, which means that the toilet you are sitting on is a non-flushing, drop toilet that requires tender love and care. This means throwing toilet paper in the plastic bag sitting next to you, not in the toilet itself. Lastly, hand-sanitizer is not an option, but an obligation, for the sake of the entire camp’s health.

Outhouses on the icefield have history and characters, providing a window into the history of JIRP. Outhouses, among all the facilities in the camps, stand out the most with their extravagant names and omnipresent aroma. Camp 17 has two outhouses, one with a divider (the “Doublewide”) and one without (the “Venus Fly Trap”, a two-seater). Camp 10 hosts a total of four outhouses, all varying in size: Petunia, Red Dog, Dream Land, and the Bomb Shelter (once a storage for explosives as implied by its name). Some of these outhouses were among the first built edifices on the Icefield, at the advent of camp construction; in fact, the oldest building on the Icefield, Petunia, was built in 1949 by R.A. Milan. Although the stories behind many outhouses now remain as urban (or icefield) legend, they are integral parts of the JIRP camp history. Outhouses are shelters for those seeking for a little break from all the group works, but they also bring people together—sometimes quite literally.

 The Dreamland outhouse at Camp 10. Photo courtesy of PBJ Photography.

The Dreamland outhouse at Camp 10. Photo courtesy of PBJ Photography.

Outhouses at Camp 17 specifically have been a topic of debate for many JIRPers: the exponential relationship between the camp population and the intensity of aroma in the outhouses, favorite quotes in the Doublewide, and so on.  Most people could only imagine two people casually having a conversation in a two-seater bathroom without a divider, but JIRPers at Camp 17 can experience this first-hand in the Venus Flytrap. The Venus Flytrap offers an awkward experience with its two toilet seats located next to one another. It gives you an illusion that there is privacy, but there really is none once you enter; it may be just a matter of time before a familiar face rushes into the Flytrap. Surprisingly, not many JIRPers are uncomfortable with such encounters; spending every minute together in a small camp community naturally allows one to be—simply put—low maintenance.

The Doublewide, located in front of the library at Camp 17, presents us with wall quotes dating back to 2001 It also presents us with a magnificent view of Lemon Creek Glacier, where JIRPers have their safety training for a week and a half. Here, we can take a peek at Matt Beedle’s (academic director of JIRP) past: “no, no, no, less cool, more scientific”. Dr. Beedle wrote this quote he remembers hearing as a JIRPer. Legend has it that the quote was an instruction from Jeff Barbee, a photographer and staff at the time, to then high-school student Beedle. Barbee was taking a picture of Matt at the Southwest Branch of the Taku Glacier and yelled this quote, requesting a more “scientific pose”, with his hand on top of his head as if he were looking out across the glacier. Like Dr. Beedle who may have been digging a mass balance snow pit on Taku Glacier, I, after a day of digging the same pits on the same glacier, am reminded of a quote written on the Doublewide: “’It’s better to go skiing and think of God, then to go to church and think of sport’- Fridtjof Nansen”.

 Camp 10 with the Taku Range in the mist beyond. Photo courtesy of PBJ Photography.

Camp 10 with the Taku Range in the mist beyond. Photo courtesy of PBJ Photography.

In Camp 17, I would often take a moment in the Doublewide to read the quotes on the wall and appreciate the view outside. When you are exhausted from the day’s work, it’s sometimes hard to recognize the astonishing view surroundings us every second. Outhouses are shelters for me to take a break and absorb the magnificent beauty of the Icefield. It shows the history of JIRP, and the course of JIRPers coming together as a group. Being a deadhead (a diehard fan of Grateful Dead), I try to revive myself at the end of an exhausting day with yet another Doublewide quote: “Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile”. And after all, “not all who wander are lost, some are JIRPers”.