ESTES PARK, Colo. — If you climb Longs Peak this summer, not only can you say you’ve summitted one of the state’s most iconic 14ers … you can also say you’ve seen an award-winning toilet.
No joke: the backcountry toilets on the 14,259’ peak were recognized by the American Association of Architects in the 2019 small project awards for the “under 5,000 square feet category.”
“The new Longs Peak toilets explore lightweight prefabricated construction and emerging methods of waste collection,” the award announcement from the American Association of Architects wrote.
It sounds fancy … and honestly, it is.
The toilets are a collaboration between the National Park Service and the ColoradoBuildingWorkshop at CU Denver. Like other great innovations in human history, their construction stems from necessity.
Longs Peak is one of the most popular 14ers, bringing thousands of people to the Keyhole Route alone. It’s human nature for folks to need to … take care of some business while they’re on the mountain, but all that waste has to go somewhere, which is a difficult problem in such an inhospitable environment.
Side note: Going to the bathroom on a crowded trail above treeline is very difficult if you're not an exhibitionist.
Thankfully though, the first backcountry toilets on the peak were installed in 1983. They required someone to remove the waste by shoveling it into buckets in order to be carried down the mountain by llamas (talk about a crappy job!).
The National Park Service, rightfully, figured there has to be a better way to go about this whole thing. So, they got some help from the ColoradoBuildingWorkshop.
The award-winning toilets are made up of metal cages called gambions. These are filled with rocks that the team pulled from the nearby environment. The structures are meant to be strong enough to withstand the hurricane-force wind that the peak is known for. The roofs are open and there are windows, meaning this toilet, unlike many others, comes with a good view.
The privies also use a technology that diverts urine into the environment, meaning there’s 80% less waste that needs to be carried down the mountain (something the llamas have to appreciate!).
CU Denver students were able to construct the privies in eight days. Two of them are in the Boulder Field area, which is six miles from the trailhead by way of the Keyhole route and above treeline in a rugged and rocky area.
If you don’t feel like making that hike but still want to see the toilets, they’re also at Chasm Junction and Chasm Meadows.
See more photos of the toilets in all their splendor below:
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