HMI Gap: My Friend Doug

Student reflections from HMI Gap’s Fall 2020 “Wilderness and Conservation in The American West” semester.

Written by: Zackery Stone 

“How are you going to use the bathroom?” It was perhaps the most common question I received when telling family and friends about my coming semester in the backcountry with HMI. At the time, my best answer was a shrug. Shortly after my arrival in Leadville, however, the mystery was dispelled. 


In one of our first classes – Self-care and Hygiene -we were introduced to Doug and “The Nine Ds of Dumping.” Doug turned out to be simply a foldable hand shovel that, supposedly, would dig a five by five inch hole in which we would defecate. Although I shouldn’t have been surprised, I grew slightly uncomfortable imagining the next 80 days crouching over a hole in the earth. While I knew comfort would be out of the question, the inevitable 2 am, sub-freezing “Douging” seemed terrifying. 


This trend of slightly arching my eyebrows while learning about life in the backcountry continued throughout our orientation classes. Like meeting Doug, so many of my experiences backpacking in the Sawatch Range began as unfamiliar. In hindsight, though, every crazy skill we learned those three days now seem completely normal. Just two weeks later, I now toss up mids, whip out topographic maps, haul around 55-pound packs, prime Whisperlite camping stoves, and dig five inch holes like they are all vital aspects of my job. It wasn’t an immediate transition, but at some point between climbing Hope Pass, searching for Lily Ponds, and summiting Mt. Massive, we evolved to a new way of living.


In fact, over the last fourteen days, we have grown to love and cherish Doug as our new friend. We found a comforting companion with whom we can trot back to camp, feeling a weight removed from… our shoulders. So thank you, Doug, for sticking with me – through thick and thin, the hard times (and the soft!). And, perhaps most importantly, thank you for showing me that after two weeks, any seemingly bizarre task, any cold, after-midnight challenge, can turn into a highlight of my day.