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State’s highest outhouse getting badly needed upgrade

The state's highest outhouse at Camp Muir on Mount Rainier is getting a badly needed upgrade. (Washington Trails Association image)

Construction is about to begin on an historic landmark, 10,000 feet above sea-level. It’s Camp Muir, at Mount Rainier, where the state’s highest outhouse is getting an upgrade.

The five toilets have been there for decades, sitting right in the middle of Camp Muir, where climbers rest for the final ascent and day hikers enjoy the spectacular views. Some consider the old buildings an eyesore and they’ll be moved to the east and the west sides of the camp. But there’s a bigger issue.

“It doesn’t make the best impression as you’re coming up the ridge, you smell that smell and the whole thing is pretty unpleasant,” said Sue Ann Brown, historical architect at Mount Rainier National Park.

On a nice summer day, hundreds of people will visit Camp Muir and the toilets.

“At that elevation, composting doesn’t really work and the smell in those places can be awful and it just kind of permeates the whole ridge, at times,” said Brown.

Guide Alex Van Steen has climbed around the world and points out that many places make no effort at sanitation. So he asks that visitors to Camp Muir lower their expectations.

“They’re an outback outhouse,” said Van Steen. “They’re an outhouse in the woods and they’re cleaned carefully and they’re meticulously cared for but when it’s hot, you smell it.”

In a few weeks, the National Parks Service will begin the process of building four new toilets at a cost of about $200,000. A construction challenge, for sure.

“We’re still working out the details of exactly how we’re going to get it up there but it is challenging. We do have to fly materials to the site,” explained Brown.

The new “separator” latrines will improve waste disposal by separating liquids and solids and help minimize contact for staffers who remove it.

“It is flown out of there in barrels,” Brown said.

The challenging toilet job might take more than one season to finish. And that’s just the start at Camp Muir
where, over the next few years, crews will rehabilitate a 100-year-old guide house and other historic structures and replace the cooking and storage buildings for the tens of thousands of hikers and climbers who visit Camp Muir every year.

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