Outhouses—McCarthy Style

Well, my time in McCarthy is coming to an end for this summer. Over the weeks I have been here, I have collected images to do a series of posts on what it is like to live out here, and hopefully some day I will share all of them with you.

To get this started, I thought I would share the outhouses of our neighborhood. Yes. There are real flushing toilets in this town, but our little hood does not have one.

The block we live on consists of the Wrangell Mountains Center an educational facility for arts, science, and research that owns two large properties on our block. The Old Hardware Store which was an operating Hardware and Grocery Store back in the mining days, but now houses the WMC’s cooking facilities, staff rooms, and two large educational spaces.

And Porphry Place which is the former residence of Ed LaChapelle  expert glacilogist and his partner Meg Hunt who was a professor of dance. The Wrangell Mountains Center’s Artist and Writer Residency Program is named after her. This facilitiy serves as a lecture space with artist and writer residency living spaces on the back half of the property.

thumb_IMG_1479_1024We are also have two neighbors–Sally and Grandma Patt. Sally’s house is tucked away on the left and Grandma Patt lives on the right side of the street.


At the end of our block is the lovely and amazing McCarthy Creek. I have been told that she is a misnamed river, and I believe it. There are mountains behind that cloud and smoke cover.

Years ago, I would look forward to visiting homes and businesses just to use their flushing toilet and hot running water to wash my hands. But as time goes by, living with an outhouse really is not that big of a deal.

As comedian Monte Montepare says, when you think about what your bathroom is and does having it in your house just seems kind of wrong.

Maria Shell Image Journal #26

Just an average day at our cabin.

The reason most of us have outhouses is that the systems required to have indoor plumbing in an off-the-grid community are substantial. We do NOT have public utitlities out here.


Porphyry Place’s very sweet little outhouse

Our heating, power, and water systems are all generated by ourselves. Some of us have very sophisticated systems with generators or solar power, running water, and flushing toilets. Others systems are more primative. Our personal system meets our needs and each year we get just a bit fancier.


Grandma Patt’s Outtie built by the legendary mountain climber Jim  Sweeny

We have a great solar system that can be boosted with our generator on rainy days, two excellent wood stoves for heating the house and baking, but we do haul water from the creek (no plumbing), and we have a rather old outhouse. And our shower, well, it is in the wood shed. But that is a story for another day.


Our outhouse is the featured photograph for the first chapter of Pilgrim’s Wilderness by Tom Kizzia. There is a link to the book at the end of this post.

We have what is called a dry cabin which means no water systems—no plumbing at all.

I know in this day and age, it seems strange not to be able to flip a switch and illuminate a room, but there are other methods for generating light. For those who live out here, it is satisfying to figure out how to live off the grid in a remote location. We like tinkering with our systems and figuring out what works and what doesn’t.


The Old Hardware Store also known as the Wrangell Mountains Center has a two for one.

When the zombie apocalypse happens, we are kind of set.

Systems—how to install them and how to maintain them—are a very popular topic out here. Gardening, perserving the harvest, maintaining solar systems, fixing generators, and hauling water are always good conversation starters.


The newest outhouse in our neighborhood is a public outhouse funded by McCarthy Area Council and the community.

There is something deeply satisfying about creating your own comfort, about knowing what it takes to keep yourself warm and dry, fed and powered up. It slows things down in a world that moves so fast it is hard to think in compete sentences sometimes.


Tripp–son number three–gave the new public out house a rave review. The toilet paper wasn’t soft enough for five stars, but otherwise, he is pleased

Out here, as you chop wood or pick berries the important things about life become crystal clear. When you create your own systems, you get to know yourself and your neighbors in a way that would never happen in a gridded society.

And then, when you get a chance to use a flushing toilet or an indoor shower, well, the luxury is OHLALA truly appreciated.

Over the years, I have written several posts about living in McCarthy, Alaska. Here are a few them.

Vegetable Garden—McCarthy Style
Sewing Studio McCarthy Style
July 4th—McCarthy Style
Ari’s Community Quilt
McCarthy Solstice
Hello From McCarthy
McCarthy Day—Another Community Quilt Story
Raspberry Rhubarb Ginger Jam 

And if you want to read Tom’s book called Pilgrim’s Wilderness about the town of McCarthy and a small religious cult that wrecked havoc here in the early years of this century you can by following the link. It is a great read.

51rWNhZaAfLI hope you all are enjoying this summer as much as I am.

This entry was published on July 25, 2016 at 5:26 PM. It’s filed under Just Plain Stories, McCarthy Style and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

24 thoughts on “Outhouses—McCarthy Style

  1. Susan Tague on said:

    Loved this! So glad you sent it!

    Sent from my iPad


  2. pmgarrett2 on said:


    Sent from my Verizon 4G LTE smartphone

  3. JoJo on said:

    How do you get internet access?

    • JoJo- At some point there was a bill in congress that supported funding for bush Alaska getting internet, so we received funding and then the infrastructure to create a hot spot. Which isn’t all that hot, but it does work. So, anyone who visits McCarthy can actually sign up for a hot spot for a day, week, or month. Locals use a slightly different service. And if anyone who lives in McCarthy reads this and wants to correct or add to this information. Please do.

  4. Mary Duncan on said:

    We lived in similar conditions in central Victoria, Australia. Our out house consisted of four doors roughly tacked together with a roof. Visitors invariably walked round the place trying each door to find the one that worked, even though there was a well worn path to the correct door. The door was rarely closed when in use because of the magnificent view.

    • Mary- What a great story. I can just see your visitors making a complete circle around the outhouse before they figure it out. Most of our friends, who live outside the town of McCarthy, have half doors or no doors like you said. Why not enjoy a good view while you are on the throne! Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

  5. debby on said:

    What a fun post. I love your son’s outhouse review.

  6. When the zombie apocalypse happens, I’m just hoping to be bit first. Way more fun to be a zombie.

    From my own experience being off the grid, I’ve come to the conclusion that hot and cold running potable water are my favorite modern convenience. Also: laundry! I can live with outhouses and hauling water but I really really really enjoy the washing machine.

    Thanks for the McCarthy post. Makes me feel homesick even if I’ve never been there. I live in the diametric opposite, which also has its charms, although I often wish it were quieter.

    • We talk about zombies around here ALOT. I am convinced that my 60mm rotary blade might just be the weapon of choice for me. We still don’t have a washing machine! Many of our friends have these cute little table top washers which might just be our next investment. Although, I am the only one in the family that cares about clean clothes! I agee about the water. It will be a very long time before that happens at our cabin–we can’t dig well, and to lay pipe would involve neighbors. While I truly love McCarthy. I am also a big city fan. It’s the suburbs that drive me nuts. Thank you Carrie!

  7. This might be the best post ever! I love it!

  8. Thank you Heather!

  9. Maria: There’s a book of your own in this story! You are a real pioneer woman… a hero for us city slickers.

  10. I am actually trying to get my friend Nancy Cook to finish her collection of essays about living out here. And besided the year-rounders think I am a city dweller like you!

  11. It’s wonderful that you have the opportunity to live in both worlds! I loved the tour and commentary.

    • Penny, I like that too. Especially for our kids. They might not think it is great right now to be off the grid, but I am hoping that years from now they will get it.

      • I’m fairly confident that they will. Our kids all thought we were smarter about the time they turned 27 or so…

      • I hope you are right. I know I had the realization after I had kids that maybe my parents were under just a wee bit of stress when they had four girls in under four years….

  12. Hi Maria — What a great picture you paint with words! I can imagine that the boys have a wonderful time creating adventures in outdoor play during their summer breaks away from the “city”. It sounds a bit like “camping” out, but with the benefit of a roof! I admire those who make it a year round life too and have the skill and talents that came from our ancestors to live rough. I love the photos & reviews of the out houses.

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