December 11, 2002


My friend Sue really wants to know how women pee in Antarctica. Men just have some minimal unzipping to do, but us women—well, there’s potential for a good bit more exposure. And it’s cold outside.

So, Sue, this entry’s for you.

Peeing in McMurdo is simple. Public restrooms like in any academic or business building, or dorms. Same drill as anywhere in the States.

What do you do in the field, though?

There are two questions: The question of facilities and the question of exposure.

Facilities: At Fang, we had a nice lou (pictured below), with a Styrofoam toilet seat sheltered by three walls of snow blocks to block the wind. The toilet seat was balanced on a four-sided wood box, which led to a hole in the snow. Sounds like this is not the most environmentally friendly plan; usually, they crap into a bucket in the hole, which gets helicoptered out and then shipped off the continent. Near the crapper was a pee hole.

[The john at Fang, as seen from camp. Fang Ridge in the background.]

[The john at Fang, up close and almost personal.]

[The view from the shitter.]

The Hut can hardly be considered the field. But, it’s still away from running water, and we have to ship out all our waste. We have a deluxe potty room in the back of the shed (= warm), equipped three important items: 1) men’s urinal which leads straight to the pee barrel outside; 2) poop hole; 3) ‘women’s urinal’. There is a wooden bench which hosts the latter two: holes in the bench are ringed by Styrofoam toilet seats, with a lidded poop bucket under one and a metal ‘funnel’ leading to a Nalgene under the other. There is another Nalgene, labeled “PEE,” that has a nice bouquet of fake flowers it in. There is also a few books, one of which has a scantily-clad woman with flaming torches conviently positioned to cover certain details of her chest. I think the book is called “Strange Predicament” and is, of course, about Nazis. (???) Us ladies empty the pee-filled Nalgene into the men’s urinal after use. It’s a great system, because we get to see how much we pee. The first time I peed, I filled the Nalgene. I don’t know what’s normal, but I felt pretty good about it. My record so far is just barely over a liter, in one go. Very satisfying. Except that I have to stop right at the end of my pee to quickly empty the bottle, trying not to drip, and then it’s a little hard to start again.

While doing actual field work, we are able to pee anywhere. In other locations in Antarctica, folks are a little more limited. In the Dry Valleys, for example, everyone has to pee into pee bottles. The women I’ve talked to that have to do this use a female funnel—I can’t remember the exact name for it. It’s a contraption consisting of two plastic parts: One cup/funnel-like part which is held against the body to catch the pee, and one tube which attaches to the base to extend the funnel. I was advised to practice in the shower should I want to use this method.

[The pee bottle, as captured in my tent, where it (and the funnel) has come in handy a night or two. Cold? Maybe. Lazy? Definately.]

Exposure: Nelia clued me in to her pee strategy. Our wind pants (bibs) have front and side zippers. Unzip one side (which can be done under a coat), pull the back around the other side, and there you go: you’re exposed but still mostly dressed. If outside in the field, pee into the wind so the pee goes behind you, where you’ve already pulled clothing out of the away. The funnel method would take even less undressing.

As of yet, I haven’t had to pee in the field. But I’m not afraid. I swear. It actually doesn't feel as cold as you might think, most the time. (Brrrrrr…..)

Posted by beth at December 11, 2002 05:28 PM | TrackBack

What can I say? I was really curious how this worked for women. Thanks for the explanation Beth! It doesn't sound that bad actually. I've peed outside a lot but the most I've had to worry about is squatting on poison ivy. I've never had to think about exposure on such sensitive parts! ;) Sounds like you've got things under control. :)

Posted by: Sue on December 11, 2002 08:19 PM

gee, I didn't expect to find such things on your "blog"...thanks for giving me a good time reading this!! yark yark. but you know, I ought to read your litterature more often, I learn a lot of vocabulary: for instance, all the terms used to describe the toilets. I'm not sure I understood eveything though; Do you really call it a "john" or a "lou"? (Maybe I missed something)

Well, next on beth's channel, don't miss "how do penguins mate without risking hypodermia". :)

Posted by: arnaud on December 11, 2002 09:49 PM

Thanks Beth! I've been curious about that, too. Congratulations on peeing a whole liter! Lately I've been trying to learn how to pee standing up. There are all kinds of techniques (all of which are recommended for trying in the shower before experimenting outside)- you should try them while you're out there. It's a skill that could come in really handy one day. Unfortunately, one day while hiking (after only a few practices in the shower) I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I could successfully pee standing up with out making a mess. Well, I won't go into any grody details, but it turned out that I had to do laundry that night :P

Posted by: Tanja on December 12, 2002 02:05 AM

hahahahahahah that's great and informative! I've always wondered how to urinate and deficate in antartica. Props for the documentation!

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