Don’t step on the flaming bag!

Today at work I had my first trip up to the ‘high site”.  This is the final installation site of all the telescopes we are working at.  Elevation is 5,000 meters, or around 16,400 feet!  Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental United States, is 14,500 feet.  Plus, we get to drive up to the site.

The views were beautiful, we even saw some wild donkeys on the way up.  We got out of our truck, and I was worried about having enough air to breathe, but it really wasn’t too bad.  I don’t think I could run up there, or even go for a brisk walk, but for what we had to do I was fine.  Regulations require us to carry oxygen and check our O2 levels, but we weren’t up there long enough to be affected.  I could see how being up there all day would really affect you though.

There is a building that houses equipment and has some small offices.  It is heated and has oxygen pumped into, so it made for a nice place to take a break.  And thats when I saw a most fascinating device:

Fire Toilet

Yes folks, due to the lack of a proper sewage system at high altitudes, they installed an Incinerating Toilet.  Just how does it work?  Well, you put a paper bag into the toilet looking thing, sit down and poop in the bag, and then press a button and the toilet destroys your poop in a fiery blaze!  I have never before desired a bowel movement so much….but sadly it just wasn’t my time.   I actually looked up Incinerating Toilets on Wikipedia, one of the companies advertises their toilets as “The toilet that works like a self cleaning oven!”  Hmmmm….kind of turned me off to self cleaning ovens.

It was hard for the rest of the high site to live up to the flaming poop machine, but I still liked it.  We soon finished our task and made our way down (a 41 km drive, I think)  I was expecting to be full of energy when I came back down to the “low site” (only 10,000 feet) due to a rush of oxygen, but I just felt mildly better.  Oh well.  Next trip up I’m going to devour a sack of prunes and put that machine to work!

(I sincerely apoligize for all the poop talk, it most likely won’t happen again.)


3 Responses to “Don’t step on the flaming bag!”

  1. Alan Harris Says:

    Hi Derek
    Now you’ve got us worried but I’m sure you must have been warned of Anoxia ,hyperoxia etc.
    In the Air Force we were often lectured about the effects of too little or too much Oxygen intake.
    With too little oxygen, flying in a rarefied atmosphere you can become overconfident; suffer from disorientation with vision changes such as myopia.
    With too much oxygen intake you could suffer oxygen toxicity resulting in retinal detachment or collapse of alveoli in the lungs.
    Re. The flaming poopery. I note, in the photo, there are grab rails for a person to hold tight in case of sudden explosion.
    Take care.
    Love from all in UK.

  2. Bob Daniels Says:

    Well…I hope you were able to learn about the history of the “Firey Toilet”…. It was one of the most difficult pcs of machinery in the entire antenna ops building to get working properly. More complaints about it than even sealing the rooms so we could get O2 high enough to offer relief.

    Not “burned buns” just too much smoke or insufficient combustion. A tough thing to do at that altitude. Ask an astronaut which is harder to do in space…eat or poop…what do you think they will say?

    Good to hear you are back “on top” again. Take care, Bob

  3. John Herrold Says:


    My bride sent me this link to your blog.

    Fascinating information. In addition to Alan Harris and his Air Force information, the FAA requires all general aviation pilots operating under Part 91 rules to use supplemental oxygen after 30 minutes when above 12,500 feet and all the time above 14,000 feet in unpressurized aircraft. Hypoxia (the lack of oxygen) can manifest itself in an unpredictable manner. Often one can experience euphoria whilst at the same time making poor decisions and not being aware of what they doing & at the same time thinking everything is fine.

    In one mountain flying course I took long ago my instructor said to look at your fingernails. He said they would begin turning blue with the lack of oxygen and when half blue he knew if was time for supplemental oxygen. We flew into Leadville, Colorado, the highest airport in North America (9927 feet). Got as high as 15,000 feet enroute in our little Cessna. He was also an FAA employee, so I made sure he knew I had an oxygen bottle & told him the rule. His instructing involved using the fingernail technique of which he did not inform me until after we landed. He would not let me use the oxygen even though we were breaking the law. It was fun descending a mile to get down to Leadville airport. He said some pilots even could hyperventilate over apprehension when they thought they were having hypoxia. It is hard to tell the difference when one is euphoric.

    Thanks for the Fire Toilet Tale. 🙂


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