Leave No Trace
After battling with the fact that the weather did not look promising enough to backpack 10+ miles into the heart of the High Peaks Region in an attempt to escape a majority of the complete and utter chaos of Columbus Day weekend in the Adirondacks, I took the break in the clouds as a sign to get up there for just a few hours of my Sunday.
We decided to hike two smaller mountains that we knew would provide us with both beautiful views and plenty of people. We sucked it up despite pulling into two completely full and overflowing trailheads and decided to make the best of it. Our two hikes up Black Bear Mountain and Bald Mountain were nothing short of beautiful but also inspired me to get on my high horse here for a minute to share some important information with anyone who wishes to adventure into the outdoors but especially those who want to explore in my favorite, close-to-home playground.
…is a set of principles that we outdoor junkies live by. There are seven items here that basically allow us to enjoy nature in her entirety in a sustainable way that significantly decreases and often avoids human-created impacts. They come from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics which are explained below.
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Know important information about the area you’ll visit. For example, in the Adirondack High Peaks region, there are a number of special concerns that you should be aware of before setting foot on the trail. Group size restrictions, no camping above 3,500/4,000 feet, no campfires in the eastern high peaks, and use of bear canisters are just a few of these special restrictions you should know.
- Be prepared for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies. Just because you don’t plan to be out longer than planned doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be.
- Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use; for example, trying to hike in a less busy area when the hoards of ‘hikers’ flood the mountains.
- Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups. Your large group not only does more damage to the trail itself due to widening, and/or just overuse but it tends to change the experience of the other hikers around you in a not so positive way due to sound pollution, less space, having to wait potentially behind a large group, etc.
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, or snow.
- Protect water sources and wetland areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams; keep this in mind when doing your ‘business’ as well.
- Good campsites are found, not made. In the Adirondacks, campsites are marked with a lean-to or tent marker for your convenience. Altering a site is not necessary.
- Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
- Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
- Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter. I don’t know why this is such a difficult concept but for some reason it is… bring a plastic shopping bag or a ziplock baggie to dispose of your garbage into and just carry it all out with you! The Adirondacks is NOT a national park; you will not find garbage disposals at every trailhead or along the way like you might in a Yosemite or Yellowstone. You must carry out what you carried in (this includes TP and hygiene products; pro tip: duct tape a ziplock baggie so you don’t have to look inside).
- Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished. Because no one wants to stumble upon your business when they go to do theirs.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater. <- Not even what I follow. If I want to clean myself it’s just the use of water in a stream or lake and a follow-up baby wipe on dry land. Dirty dishes? consume the grey water; cider/ cocoa/ coffee packet to drink the remains of your meal and leave NO TRACE behind for animals to find and infiltrate.
4. Leave What You Find
- Take only pictures and Leave only footprints. Seriously.
5. Minimize Campfires
- Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry; even just the creation of a campfire if done improperly. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a solar powered lantern for nighttime light.
- Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings/pits and keep them small.
- Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand. Dead, Down and Brown only!
- Burn all wood and coals to ash and put out campfires completely before walking away from them for the night or for good.
6. Respect Wildlife
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them. Especially wildlife that can be dangerous; I’ve come down off a backcountry trail to people literally running TOWARDS a bear by the river… dumb.
- Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters their natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers. For example, Yellow Yellow was a small, shy female black bear that had to be laid to rest because she became too interested in human food and activity and therefore deemed unsafe.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely. In the ADK High Peaks, there are specific Bear Canisters (called bear vaults) that you must use to store any scented items. They can be rented in many places but also purchased here; any purchase made from the link provided will provide me with a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you.
- Control pets at all times, or leave them at home. There are leash laws that differ depending on what part region of the Adirondacks you are in.
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience. Don’t act like an idiot on the trail; ie. don’t leave your class or aluminum beer bottles and cans alongside the trail, don’t talk about repulsive or disgusting things, or use extensive foul language, don’t crowd someone who is already enjoying a specific spot, and don’t leave garbage behind for others to clean up.
- Be courteous and yield to other users on the trail. If you are moving slowly, please move to the side and let people waiting behind you go ahead. When you come head to head with someone on the trail, communicate to see who would like to stop. When it comes to mountain hiking there are arguments for both sides; generally speaking, I stop if I’m descending because it’s tougher to pick momentum back up for those heading up, however, many groups will look at it as an opportunity to take a quick rest and they might wave me on. It’s much easier for me to start moving again then it is for them!
- Let nature’s sounds prevail. There is no need to yell and shout, or blare music along the trail or at the destination. Enjoy the company of nature and the ones you are with.
Please, please, PLEASE take these concepts into consideration before you venture out into the wilderness; whether you are 1 mile off the highway or 20, your actions make a difference.
Now I know that many of us who love the outdoors, and the Adirondacks specifically, follow these very important principles. This weekend, the weekend where the inexperienced and often, unappreciative, decide to take over nature by the masses, has shown me just how many clueless, selfish people there are who don’t care what they destroy just to get the views, the photos and the stories they’re searching for.