World’s Northernmost Outhouses

In a recent story, one of our writers wondered whether a dilapidated outhouse on Russia’s Wrangel Island was the northernmost outhouse in the world. It isn’t. Not even close.

The world’s northernmost outhouse sits on Ward Hunt Island, a small satellite off northern Ellesmere Island. Ward Hunt Island has often served as a starting point for full-length North Pole expeditions. It overlooks the Arctic Ocean, at 83˚06′, just one nautical mile shy of the northern tip of Canada, at Cape Aldrich. From the outhouse, the North Pole is just 767km away.

Parks Canada wardens from nearby Quttinirpaaq National Park tend the few old military quonsets on the little island. (I’ve had a duffel of food and fuel stored in one of them for years, just in case I ever need a resupply on my High Arctic travels.) In the 1990s, a warden with a sense of humor decided to paint the little outhouse fluorescent orange, so that “skiers coming back from the North Pole would have something to look forward to.”

By contrast, the outhouse at Wrangel Island is at about 71˚N, roughly 1,300km further south.

Arctic graffiti

Another High Arctic outhouse lies at 75˚40’N, at Truelove Inlet on the north side of Devon Island. The outhouse belongs to an abandoned botanists’ station from the 1960s. On the inside door of the outhouse, 60-year-old graffiti reminds scientists always to keep their wits about them in polar bear country: “Though you may be enthralled by a passion for flora/Do not ever forget the Order Carnivora.”

Devon Island outhouse, 75˚40’N. Photo: Jerry Kobalenko


Still further north, at 80˚N at Expedition Fiord on uninhabited Axel Heiberg Island, scientists have also come every spring since the 1960s to study two glaciers. The hardy glaciologists never bothered with an outhouse. They just use an empty 44-gallon fuel drum with a toilet seat on top, partly buried in the snow. I don’t have a photo of the drum itself, but the view from beside it, below, has to be one of the most inspiring outhouse views in the world.

Outhouse view, Expedition Fiord, Axel Heiberg Island. 80˚N. Photo: Jerry Kobalenko


Historic outhouse

Even further north, at 81˚76’N at Fort Conger on Ellesmere Island, is the remains of an outhouse from the Greely expedition of 1881-1884. The outhouse has crumbled, but the door, lying on the ground, is largely intact. More graffiti, still legible after 140 years, decorates the inside of the door. It pokes fun at one of their men, Nicholas Salor, originally from France. It calls him, rather obscurely, “Prof[essor] of Anatomy”, clearly an inside joke. An addition at the top of the door further labels him “Frog Eater”. Salor later became one of 19 men who died of starvation on that tragic expedition.

Outhouse door, Fort Conger, Ellesmere Island, 81˚76’N. Photo: Jerry Kobalenko


Finally, the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard spans the 80˚N latitude line and has its share of outhouses — and visitors. All well north of Wrangel Island, which is respectably wild, beautifully arctic, but hardly home to record-setting outhouses.

Svalbard outhouse, approx. 80˚N. Photo: M. Svaton