The Leave No Trace Seven Principles – Earth Day

Leave No Trace Principles

I don’t want you to go out into the wilderness in Colorado, or any other state, and leave it in worse condition than you found it. The sad fact is that for so many years those that have gone before us on the trails figured that the wilderness was a giant black hole and anything you dumped into it would blow away or decompose fast enough that no one would ever notice.

When I was on Carstensz Pyramid there was a huge dump at base camp. The stuff there was a mix of stuff, but a lot of it wouldn’t have been practical to haul up the 6 day trek in a porter’s bag. There was a jeep road nearby but to drive on it would be trespassing on private land. Very sad state of affairs in one of the most wild and scenic parts of the whole world.

Please don’t contribute to the destruction of our wild lands. As a Boy Scout Leader I’ve had the opportunity to teach my young campers the Leave No Trace Seven Principles, as outlined in this chapter. I highly recommend that you visit their website and read the materials there to help you make wise decisions in how you can help to prevent further damage to our valuable wild areas.

The Colorado 14ers are one of the most visited hiking destinations in the state and there are a lot of people there who have no idea about the potential damage they are doing to our mountains. Don’t be one of them.

Aside from the common sense of pack it in, pack it out, seriously consider the impact of human waste on the environment. Find the website for the government agency in charge of the area in which you’ll be hiking and read up on the rules for human waste management. On Mount Rainier, as an example, above certain camps, you are required to use plastic bags, available at the ranger stations, and dispose of the full bags in appointed bins at a few choice locations.

Garbage Dump at Lake Camp on Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia
Garbage Dump at Lake Camp on Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia

The Leave No Trace Seven Principles.

  1. – Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. – Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. – Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. – Leave What You Find
  5. – Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. – Respect Wildlife
  7. – Be Considerate of Other Visitors

The member-driven Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics teaches people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. This copyrighted information has been reprinted with permission from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics:

I do have a few thoughts about these that I’d like to share. I mentioned before that you should find out what rules apply to the trail you’d like to hike on. Some trails have rules about fire and water and human waste, but there are also rules about dogs including dog waste removal and leash requirements. I’ve been tripped many times by dogs on too long a leash for them to be under control as well as dogs wandering around free and loose in places where they are not allowed. Dog waste is common all along the trails I run on, and it’s an unsightly mess that smells pretty bad and attracts insects and other pests. Please be a responsible pet owner. In the big scheme of things this is to help you to keep the trails open for other dog owners. It might take only one serious incident to get the trails closed permanently.

There is way too much garbage along the trails as well. I see lots of candy bar and granola bar wrappers, as well as plastic disposable bottles. Please manage your trash. It only takes a few seconds and an ounce or two to keep your trash on you until you get to a proper place to dispose of it. Even the pull tabs from goo packets are too common along the trails. The little foil bottle seals, juice box straw wrappers, toothpick wrappers, and lots of other tiny little stuff litters the trail, and all it takes is a glint of shiny sunlight from the right angle to reveal it all. Don’t leave it for others, or Mother Nature who might be able to dissolve it to dust in a thousand years or so.

I normally keep all my snacks in a larger zipper seal bag. When I’m done with my snack wrappers I fold them neatly and place them back inside. I fold the goo packets with the opening and tear strip in the center to keep the bag from becoming sticky from the residue. You could try this system at first and see what works best for you.

Too many people are souvenir collectors. Take pictures, not a summit rock or plant. In some areas it can be a federal offense to collect a trophy. Don’t even snag a stick from along the trail to use as a walking stick or cane in accordance with some 19th century tradition of the jolly good stroll with the boys. In the same vein, it’s disruptive when a group of kids runs down the sides of the trail waving sticks and throwing rocks at each other and screaming in some misplaced game. That’s what soccer fields are for.

Many times I’ve been up Quandary, a popular Colorado 14er and seen mountain goats and pika along the trail. I cut them a lot of slack. They live there. I don’t. I’ve seen kids chasing the pika and marmots and chipmunks. I’ve seen dozens of people trying to get within touching distance of the goats. As used to humans as they seem to be, they are still wild creatures and can be unpredictable at best. Leave them alone please. Take some distant photos and enjoy them with your friends and family.

As far as consideration of others, I’ve seen several groups splayed out along the trail preventing anyone from possibly making uphill or downhill progress without tripping over them. It’s even worse when it’s at a steep and rough section. It might look like a great place to rest, but if you can hang on for a few more minutes or twenty, there will be a great wide flat spot just made for taking a break. The people doing it generally seem ignorant that anyone would want to go around them and that they are in the way. They get all mad at you and even say rude comments when someone interrupts their rest. Don’t be those people.

Hopefully these few ideas and suggestions won’t offend you. It’s best though if you don’t represent any of the examples. Go for peace and harmony on the trail with your fellow hikers all of whom are in their own zone and have their own reasons for being on the mountain. Some will be trail runners working on setting a PR for their ascent or car-to-car times. Some will be wearing huge boots and 50 lb. packs training for Everest or Denali. Some will have sweet camera gear and trying for that perfect photo. Some will be hanging out for a day of adventure with friends. Some want to be just left alone. Some want to talk to everyone they pass. I’ve both met and been several of those people over the years. They can be pretty cool if you let them, much of the time.

Enjoy it all and try to help out the future generations by making as little negative impact as possible. If you have the energy and drive then maybe you can even add in some of your own positive energy. Take a garbage sack with you and gather up everything. Take two, one for trash and one for recycling. Wear disposable gloves and carry hand sanitizer. Wear a white Nomex suit and give everyone a scare if that appeals to you. Whatever you do though, please, make a difference, one way or another.

Article extracted from Summit Success: Training for Hiking, Mountaineering, and Peak Bagging BUY KINDLE EDITION

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Last year I took my sons to a Boy Scout Eagle Project to clean up the shore of Lake Dillon in Summit County Colorado. We took out several black trash bags, one completely full of fishing line. Please don’t be an irresponsible fisherman. Please haul out all your line and try your best to retrieve snags whenever possible. There are now Fishing Line Recycling Containers at many popular parking areas due to this project. Do your part all year round, and not just on Earth Day.

Boy Scout Eagle Project - Lake Dillon shoreline cleanup
Boy Scout Eagle Project – Lake Dillon shoreline cleanup
Discarded fishing line along Lake Dillon shoreline, cleaned up during Boy Scout Eagle Project
Discarded fishing line along Lake Dillon shoreline, cleaned up during Boy Scout Eagle Project