The best latrine

Scan 17I can’t resist a potty joke this morning. Don’t feel like writing about more serious stuff and this 43-year-old photo sent to me by pal Bob Heberle is fading.

This would be yours truly caught trying out, for comfort and location purposes only, a newly constructed latrine seat at 11,500 feet in the Sierra Nevada in 1972. It was high above our camp near Chicken Spring Lake. It was surrounded by granite boulders and foxtail pines and had views of the lake and the surrounding peaks. It was better situated than crafted, but at least sturdy.. I recognize my construction technique and don’t believe it has improved since. Assisting me on the project were Steve Evers and Hugh Provost, left and right.

We were up there for three months, building a 5-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail in the Inyo National Forest — Cottonwood Pass to Siberian Pass. Along with the big cook tent, a bunch of camp stoves, two sheepherder ovens for baking, fresh meat that we kept in a homemade evaporative cooler and cots to sleep in, the latrine throne was among the domestic comforts. We had more than one, of course, for a 20-man camp. But this was the first and the one someone suggested I pose on.

Most of the guys thought I took the trail job too seriously, but it’s the best job I ever had and some of those guys remain good friends. Cheers to Bob Heberle, Matt Stothart and Chet Baker. It’s still so saddening that we lost Pat Houghton last year.

Minus Matt, who was recovering from eye surgery, and joined by fire crew friend Robert Elliott, who still lives in Bishop, we made it back up to Chicken Spring for a 40-year reunion in 2012. Pat, as always, kept us entertained.

You will be glad to know that the mountains have taken back over from our fleeting presence back in 1972. The only sign is the trail.

There are many funny stories involving this particular latrine, but I won’t go into detail because I may have already crossed the line by sharing the photo. The funniest of these stories, remembered, I believe, by Matt Stothart, involve complaints about the latrine design from old horse wrangler Jack Alexander. The least funny — at least to me — are the ones about guys crawling up on the boulder behind the latrine at night, pretending to be bears.

P.S. Matt saw this and reported back to me that the Jack Alexander story actually was someone else’s — maybe Pat’s — and that he (Matt) was often uncomfortable during our 10-days on, 4-days-off, shifts up in the mountains because he, too, worried about those bears.

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