The Bathroom Facilities on a Grand Canyon Rafting Trip
by Sharon Hester
Everything About Peeing and Pooping on a Grand Canyon Raft Adventure
Are you nervous about the bathroom facilities on a river trip? Do not worry, plenty of folks get a little anxious about how using the bathroom might work on a Grand Canyon rafting adventure. Especially if their only experience has been a porcelain throne. But once down in the canyon everyone discovers it is not as much of a concern as they had imagined. They quickly find their groove and realize that their fears were unwarranted.
In Grand Canyon, it is a National Park Service regulation that all liquid waste must be disposed of in the river including urine. Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP) and its river runners believe in the adage that “dilution is the solution to pollution” and as the river is a large volume river (even at lower flows), it can accommodate rafters’ wastewater. Over 20,000 people raft down the Colorado River every year in Grand Canyon, and if everyone peed on shore in such a dry desert environment, camps would smell like a barn.
During the day, there are usually hiking and lunch stops, providing opportunities to pee. While on the rafts, there are a couple pee options depending on your comfort level. If you cannot wait until an official stop, you can ask the guide to pull over and they will do so at the first opportune spot. Usually, there are others in the raft besides you that also have to go and are glad you asked. If peeing on the shore, pee MUST go directly in the river not on the sand. This means for those that are squatting, their feet must be in the water to make sure urine goes in the water. There are also techniques for going pee off the raft, and your guide can show you some of those techniques. On hot days sometimes folks just jump in the water to cool down and take the opportunity to pee then.
We recommend wearing a two-piece swimsuit or a sports bra and quick-dry underwear under clothing. This is a better choice than a one-piece swimsuit for convenience. Also, female urination devices (which allow women to pee standing up) are gaining popularity. Another method at shore stops is to hold on to straps on the side of the rafts and shimmy out to deeper water. If the water is shallow behind or next to a moored raft, it can be a good privacy screen.
Everyone must pee and, on the river, folks quickly discover if you cannot get optimum privacy, your companions will give you privacy and look away if you are doing your business.
All solid waste must be carried out of Grand Canyon. The toilet or porta-potty system is affectionately called the “groover”. The groover is the first thing set up when arriving at camp and the last thing to take down before disembarking in the morning. On trips with 28 or more total (guests and crew) there will be two groovers. The groover(s) will be in a secluded location, and usually have a “moving” view.
The groover system consists of a custom-made metal vault to receive solids, tampons, and TP, but urine must go in the river, so there is a 5-gallon bucket for pee ONLY. The liquid contents of the pee bucket are tossed in the river in the morning, and the bucket is disinfected. Both groover box and pee bucket will have toilet seats on them, but learning to separate peeing from pooing can take some practice. Don’t worry, the two receptacles are close to each other.
Two of the most important aspects of using the Groover are to ALWAYS remember to bring the “key” to the groover (stored at the hand wash station) with you to the groover and ALWAYS return it back to the hand wash station when done with business. The hand wash station is where one waits if the groover is not vacant. The “key” is a container holding the TP and if not there it is the signal that the groover is occupied. The other important thing is to ALWAYS wash hands thoroughly after using the groover.
Groover use is only if there is a need to defecate. Don’t tie up the groover to just pee or change clothes as that can increase the wait time for others that must poo. There are always plenty of places in camp to change clothes or urinate. If possible, try timing down to use the groover during the less busy times, not right after breakfast or before disembarking. Check out groover location and route before dark. And if going to the groover at night always bring a headlamp.
Needing to Go During the Day
Oh no, what if one must poo when not in camp! Clearly using the camp groover is ideal, but sometimes it happens and the urge hits when not in camp. The trip has a “toilet-on-go “system, referred to as the “Day Tripper” or a “Wag-bag.” It is a user-friendly system, consisting of a sturdy personal waste bag, that contains chemicals in the bag that neutralize human waste. It also includes toilet paper and an antiseptic towelette. The guides have a box on the rafts to dispose of the used Wag-bag. If you think you may need to poo on a hike you can request a Wag-Bag just in case, but you will have to store the used bag in your daypack until you get back at the rafts. If you have to poo on a hike and do not have a Wag bag and can’t wait until returning to the rafts to get one, then backpacking methods are in order. Dig a cat hole at least 6 inches deep, far from any water sources or the trail or where folks clearly hang out. If using toilet paper, put used TP a plastic bag to dispose of when in camp. Do NOT burn toilet paper. There are natural sources of TP, such as smooth wood or cool rocks (do not use rough wood or hot rocks. Ouch! Bury with poo.) Pee is usually backpacking rules as well but ask your guides as at some locations it might be better to pee in a side stream.
Having a period during a trip is not something to fret unduly about. It is easier than one would imagine. During the day when rafting you must use tampons as you are often getting doused with water while rafting. In camp sanitary napkins can work but are not convenient as they must not go in the groover vault but rather in the camp trash bag. Bring some zip-loc type plastic bags and some baby wipes or TP. Or a ‘Go With Your Flow Pack. ’ Make sure you store them in your daytime dry bag for easy access.
A handy device popular with women river guides is the Diva Cup. Or a menstrual disc. It is a reusable menstrual cup that collects menstrual flow rather than absorbs it. It is great because it offers up to 12 hours of leak-free protection. Using and cleaning the Diva Cup (in the river) can take some getting used to, so practice using it before your river trip to see if it works for you.
Groovette (pee pails):
Pee pails, or as AzRA fondly calls them “groovettes,” are a newer sanitary convenience on our river trips. Historically, the time of day most likely to acquire an injury while rafting in Grand Canyon was in the wee hours of the morning. This is because groggy half-asleep people had to find their way to the river to pee, often through difficult terrain, in the dark. They may have imbibed in a few beers earlier in the evening too. So, the odds of stubbing a toe, tripping, or even falling in the river were highest then. Groovettes have changed that statistic, as these days rafting participants are now given their own personal plastic quart sized pee pail/groovette to use at night next to the ground tarp or tent. Do NOT use the groovette in the tent or on the ground tarp! Place the groovette in the sand next to your tent/tarp. In the morning dump the urine in the groovette directly into the river and give it a a good rinse. Let it air dry before packing it up in a dry bag for the day. In the morning, the clear groovette is a useful device to help discern if you are drinking enough water on the trip, as one can easily see the volume and color of the urine. Urine should be copious and clear/light yellow, but if one is dehydrated it will be a reduced volume and will be darker even brown colored. If that is the case, go drink a quart of water with electrolytes immediately!
- Make sure you know where the groover is set up BEFORE it is dark! Groover locations can be secluded and thus hard to find in the dark if you don’t know where it is.
- Make sure you know where your flashlight is, so you can grab it quickly to find your way there at night. Read a story of what could happen if you don’t.
- Try to get yourself on a schedule — nighttime, after coffee, whatever it may be during camp hours. Work on that routine even before the rafting trip. Drinking a couple cups of water immediately upon awakening can help get things moving early.
- Do not hold it! Whatever you do, do not try to go the entire trip without going to the bathroom. Or try to make it to the next stop when you really must go; just ask your guide for a pee break.
- Enjoy the moving views. When will you ever again have such a grand view from a bathroom? And maybe there will be some watchable wildlife too!
- Avoid the rush hour, if possible, by using the groover any time other than right after breakfast and before boarding the rafts for the day.
- Don’t be bashful! Everybody poos! Ask questions if you have them. Your guides are used to those questions.
Here’s a River Radius podcast you can listen to to learn more about the History of the Groover!
Here’s a video on our Instagram page from our guest showing a BEAUTIFUL groover location on the river, and what it’s like to get to it.