Resurrect those old Sierra Club cups?
(or Giardia re-examined)
By Don Hoernschemeyer
until the last twenty or thirty years you could spot Sierra Club
hikers by the small metal cup hanging from their belts. The cup
was used to dip water from streams and lakes whenever one wanted
With the specter of Giardia emerging in the 70s, the small metal
cups disappeared and were replaced by purification tablets and filters.
The US National Park Service and the National Forest Service erected
signs warning of hazardous water, and we became cautious about our
source of drinking water. Companies produced lots of fancy filters
to purify contaminated water. Fortunately, an avid hiker and scientist,
Robert Rockwell, has researched the danger of Giardia and discovered
that it poses little or no threat to intelligent water drinking
in the mountains.
Quoting from a research report, Dr. Rockwell writes, "The water
that wilderness travelers are apt to drink, assuming they use a
little care, seems almost universally safe as far as Giardia is
concerned . . . What they [researchers] did find is that Giardia
and other intestinal bugs are for the most part spread by direct
fecal-oral or food-borne transmission, not by contaminated drinking
water." Rockwell notes that he has been visiting the Sierra Nevada
since the early 50s and has never treated the water and has never
had symptoms of Giardia infection as a consequence.
Rockwell states, "Untreated Sierra Nevada water should be, almost
everywhere, safe to drink . . . if you 'drink smart.' If you don't
'drink smart' you may ingest diarrhea-causing organisms. But it
won't be Giardia. Camp cooks in particular need to pay special attention
to cleanliness. Wash hands thoroughly, especially before handling
utensils and preparing meals.
If you contract Giardia in the backcountry, blame your friends .
. . not the water. Because up to 1 in 14 of us carries the Giardia
parasite, we all need to do what we can to keep the water pure.
Defecate away from water, and bury it or carry it out."
During my recent camping and hiking experience in Humphrey's Basin
it was wonderful to drink freely from the clear flowing waters.
If you would like to liberate yourself from the tyranny of purification
chemicals and high-tech filters, I recommend reading Robert Rockwell's
enlightening ten page report, which can be found at http://www.yosemite.org/naturenotes/giardia.htm.
Where to buy a Sierra-style cup? Campmor has a stainless steel version.
A modern high tech version, in titanium, can be purchased at REI.
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