Comfortable as the IMG camp was, only so much is possible in the creation of convenient restrooms from scree, boulders and ice. The camp toilets were an impressive feat of civil engineering: constructed from rocks artfully piled into a seating platform over a strong plastic sack (to enable all waste to be packed out), topped with a fluffy seat cover – presumably for insulation rather than purely decorative purposes! – and covered with a roomy tent, the toilets were all a trekker could hope for from a campsite on a glacier.
They were, however, situated a hygienic distance from our sleeping quarters and getting to them was a bit of a palaver. As one climber quipped “We’ll have to repel to the bathroom!”. And when the distance and tricky terrain were combined with darkness and frigid temperatures only the hardiest soul would be game to visit them at night. The IMG kit list accordingly recommended bringing a pee bottle. But how are we women to get the pee into the bottle without the advantage of inbuilt apparatus, so to speak? Enter the pee funnel…
After some internet research, I purchased a Shewee, the UK’s top-selling brand, and practiced at home as recommended by the manufacturers. So far so good. But when I arrived at our first camp I realised I’d made a fundamental error in my preparations: all my practice had been done standing up but the IMG tents, while commodious, offered only enough headroom for kneeling. On the first night I lay wakeful in my sleeping bag, weighing the evils of getting dressed and hiking to the toilet in the freezing cold against the risks of making my first kneeling attempt in a tent full of essential (and difficult to launder or replace) gear. As nature’s calls grew louder and the temperature fell another few degrees I decided I had to at least give it a try.
The first obstacle was the uneven ground, which meant Viki and I had rolled together into the centre of the tent. I cringed as I opened my sleeping bag, jostling her all the way while an infeasibly loud ‘ziiiiiiiiiip’ shattered the silent mountain air. I clambered out, pulled on my head torch, and folded my sleeping bag out of the way as Viki (a pee funnel expert) had recommended. I assembled my apparatus, assumed what I hoped was the correct position…and was seized by performance anxiety. I waited…and waited…and tried to relax, but it was no good. I tried to think of something else, then tried some visualisations, and finally some reassuring internal monologues. Eventually the deadlock was broken, but what I would normally expect to accomplish in less than a minute took around a quarter of an hour.
But it was done! I carefully screwed the lid back onto my pee bottle, checked it, tidied up, checked it again, put it carefully away in the corner of the tent, checked it once more for luck, and prepared to get back into bed. A little shaky – though whether from the cold or the adrenaline I couldn’t say – I tried to straighten out my sleeping bag, but managed to somehow get it both upside down and the wrong way round. Impressive! Muttering to myself (very quietly) I flipped it over, only to clout Viki on the way past with the hot Nalgene bottle I’d forgotten was still stuffed into the foot box. D’oh! Finally getting it straight I climbed back inside, turned off my headlight and repeated the whole noisy, jostling zip procedure before settling back down, my heart pounding. I was relieved (in all senses of the word) but also mortified at the kerfuffle I had caused over a simple biological function. All in all, I reflected, it would have been quicker and less disruptive to have got dressed and gone off to the toilet tent.
In the morning, however, only the sight of my full pee bottle prevented Viki berating me for insufficiently hydrating (an essential part of successful acclimatization to high altitude): she had slept through the whole thing and thought I hadn’t needed to use the facilities in the night. While I am immensely grateful for all the advice I received about pee funnels from Viki (and other women on the trek and on the net), at that moment I was most appreciative of her ability to sleep through an in-tent commotion of almost Armageddon-like proportions. Thus reassured, and after a bit more practice, I am now completely converted to the benefits of en suite facilities I can enjoy in even the remotest corners of the planet.