I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about the principles of Leave No Trace. My knowledge of Leave No Trace, until recently, has been scant. I really thought it mostly had to do with not littering or leaving garbage around. I’ve been reading posts and watching stories on social media recently that have been talking about these principles in more depth. I’ve watched my fellow hikers call out those that don’t follow the principles, and I see the growing concern in the hiking and wilderness community about other people who have not been respectful out on the hiking trails. Their concern has made me think more deeply about the issue and what I can do about it. It’s such a concern and it did not really become apparent to me until a few weeks ago when I saw it all unfold with my own eyes.
My best friend was in town and I was dying to take her out on a hike and share with her the places that I love so much. We took a trip with her, my daughter and my puppy to a fairly popular hiking trail that I will not disclose. I was so EXCITED. We got to the trailhead and we easily found a parking spot because it was still fairly early in the morning. We set out on the trail.
My first point of annoyance on the hike was when I saw my dog chewing something. I pulled it out of her mouth and found that it was a cigarette butt. Really? A cigarette butt? Who smokes cigarettes while hiking? Who has the lungs for that? Not long after that, I found her chewing on another one. I thought, okay, come on people. One is a mistake but two is just disrespectful. I had a set of puppy bags with me so I decided to pick up some of the trash I saw on the ground.
We made a little game of it, with my daughter keeping a keen eye out for the trash. A plastic water bottle here, some bits of plastic and paper there. Some bottle caps. A dog tag. By the end of the hike, we ended up nearly filling up the doggy bag completely with trash. I was shocked at how much we collected.
That wasn’t even the worst part of the hike. We diligently followed the map on All Trails to the top of the mountain. At the top, there were at least 20 other people or more, sitting around, blocking the small bit of view. I was so disappointed because this was not the experience that I was trying to give my best friend. It was also frustrating because more large groups kept showing up. We ended up leaving after a few minutes because it just didn’t feel fun at that point.
When we were originally on our way up the mountain, my daughter pointed out a spot in the trees where it looked like there was a small path. I had pulled her along, insisting that she was wrong and that we had to follow the trail on the map. But since we were so disappointed at the destination, I decided to humor her on our way back down and told her to go ahead and follow the small, hidden side trail. I really didn’t think it would go anywhere special but it made her happy to check it out.
It ended up being a herd path down to a ledge overlooking the most beautiful view ever! The best part was that literally nobody else was there. We had this huge, beautiful view all to ourselves and we spent so much time there just soaking it all in.
There were a few herd paths and there was also a fire pit built with rocks that seemed to have gotten quite a bit of use, so it was clear that there were indeed people who knew about this spot. However, since nobody was crowding it at that very moment, it was clear to me that this was something of a local secret. My wonderful experience at that spot made me want to keep it a secret myself. It made me realize why so many people are opposed to geotagging their photos on social media.
With anything, there are negative and positive aspects, and modern technology is no different. Because of our more connected world and the ability for anyone to post anything, I have had access to learn more about wild, beautiful places. Because of people geotagging beautiful locations, I have been able to find and go out to these places and enjoy them. I fell in love with these places. They’ve changed my life. I believe everyone should be able to feel the way I feel when I experience these places, and that everyone should be able to enjoy nature.
I’m growing resentful of those who have no respect for the wilderness. I’m starting to get frustrated with the garbage I see laying around. I’m annoyed with the constant stream of people crowding at the lookout points for extended periods of time while others are around.
How can it be both? How can I have the belief that everyone should be able to use the forest, while simultaneously wishing everyone would go away?
There are so many gray areas in my mind. I’ve interacted with so many interesting people on the trails and although most interactions are brief, I feel happy thinking about the general positivity and supportiveness of other hikers out on the trail. I also really love the hiking community on social media and love following fellow hikers that love the Adirondacks. MOST people are good, reasonable and want to do the right thing. I have to think that those who don’t do so just literally don’t know the appropriate way to act, or the consequences of their actions.
So what is one to do about it?
I know I have a lot more to learn. I also have a lot of advocacy to do. I went back and reviewed all of my Instagram posts. None of them explicitly showed me doing anything against the principles of Leave No Trace – but none of them explicitly showed support and advocacy for the principles either.
Here are some things to read:
Take The Pledge:
For those of us that love the Adirondacks and use that as our hiking stomping grounds, you can take the pledge to practice the 7 Leave No Trace principles within the Adirondack park. The Adirondack Council, the Adirondack Mountain Club, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and ROOST joined up together to create this pledge.
I have made the pledge – will you? Click the banner below to learn more.
Join A Group:
The Leave No Trace Center is obviously a good choice for a conservation group to support. I also am a strong believer in local efforts so I’ve been seeking out organizations in the Adirondacks and Catskills to support. So far, I have joined the Adirondack Mountain Club. This group owns the Adirondack Loj, which is a very popular parking area, campground and lodge which serves as the jumping-off point for a lot of the ADK High Peaks hikes. I choose to support and join this group because of the amazing amenities they offer to hikers and outdoor recreators. They also do a lot of volunteer trail maintenance which I am very thankful for.
Pick Up Some Trash:
This one is a no-brainer, really. Next time you head out on a hike, no matter how small, bring an extra bag with you that you can use to pick up trash on the trail. I know I will be making this a habit.
Dig Those Catholes:
I have been fortunate enough that I have never had to dig a cathole – I’ve always been able to use those privy’s that you find out in the Adirondacks. I fear that someday it may not be the case and I recently realized that I do not have the proper tools to properly take care of my waste (Proper care = buried in the ground at least 6-8 inches deep.) Therefore, I will be immediately purchasing this shovel, and I will let you all know what I think of it. It seems pretty lightweight, durable, affordable – and it even has the carabiner clip on it so I can attach it to my hiking pack. Let me know if you have a backpacking shovel and if so, which one and whether or not you like it!
I’m still learning, and I know there is a lot more to this. I’ve only scratched the surface. This is the first of many posts I will be making on the topic. Let me know what you think about Leave No Trace, and the ways you have or are planning to make an impact. Let’s learn this together.