The days are getting longer! Last night at 7:15pm I noticed that it was still fully light outside. Time to start planning the activities that make me the happiest.
I love to be off the grid. I love to be away from it all. I love to be where few other people have been. The reality is that lots of other people have also been there – I’m not that hard core to be on top of a mountain in the Himalayas that has never been hiked before. How do I know others have been where I have been? If I’m lucky a little left over fire wood and if I’m not lucky (or most of the time) TRASH.
Examples from 2016
Last year we arrived at the campsite on the Restigouche and I was in horror to see the garbage that had been left behind. I didn’t include the pictures of the human waste and feminine hygiene products to spare you some of the grosser moments – ICK.
When we hiked the Lighthouse trail last summer I almost stepped right onto a person’s No. 2 right on the trail – I know it was human because it was covered in toilet paper. As I am not aware of a breed of bear that uses TP.
The saddest of all last year was at Mount Carlton trail which is such a beautiful place but also one of the dirtiest and most littered trails I’ve ever been on. It was littered with bottles, so I’m pretty sure that the trail is used for partying as much if not more than for hiking. There are a couple of buildings on the trail that were absolutely full of bottles. The park workers told us that they go up and clean it up every couple of weeks which makes me very sad that this was a short-term accumulation. Imagine what a mess it would have been it they didn’t clean it up.
These are just a few examples of what I saw last year.
What is Leave No Trace
I was taught a long time ago, probably by the girl guides, that what you take into the woods comes back out. There are lots of links all over the internet of organizations promoting (Leave No Trace Canada Leave No Trace Ireland) and supporting leave no trace.
The whole idea is that you should leave the natural world exactly as you find it. You want to minimize your impact on the environment to the greatest extent possible.
What you bring in with you should go back out with you. All of your garbage should be in your pack when you leave. You also should leave what you find in the woods there. The ecosystem needs all of those little pine cones and leaves and branches on trees. One marshmallow stick might not kill that tree but if several people do the same thing it might.
Fire can also have a very dramatic impact. I almost always make a campfire, it warms you up and gives you something to do in the evening. The key is collecting wood from the ground (not tear it off living trees), make a proper fire pit to ensure that you contain the fire, that there is not overhang that could catch on fire and that you put in out before you go to bed/leave the campsite. When I was in California a couple of years ago I witnessed first-hand the devastating effect of massive forest fires, which were mostly started by man-made sources. There was nothing there, no trees, no habitat for animals, nothing – all because someone chose not to take care of a campfire.
This is one of my biggest pet peeves. It is a gross conversation to have but not nearly as gross as coming across, smelling or worst of all stepping in human excrement.
If you are going to spend any amount of time in the back-country you have to go to the bathroom there. I know people try to hold it but that is not comfortable or good for your body. The key is to be responsible about this process.
The first step is to go far away from the trail, campsite and water sources. This seems like overkill but imagine lying in bed at night and either an interested animal or the smell comes through your camp.
The next step is to dig a hole – this will mean that the next person to come through won’t have to step on your mess. Most outdoor stores sell little shovels for this purpose but you can also take a garden trowel or use a sturdy stick off of the ground (don’t rip one off the tree) and dig a hole. The hole should be 6-8” deep and 3-4” wide. Once you are done put everything in the hole and cover it up well. This will also allow for the composting of the toilet paper to happen faster.
Now ladies –as gross as this sounds – take your feminine hygiene products with you or use a reusable product. I know this sounds disgusting and I might lose some readers here but anyone who has come across a used feminine hygiene product in the woods will agree with me. It is very disgusting, they don’t break down and they attract animals.
I carry a large plastic bag with me, it has toilet paper and tampons (yes I said it). I put a smaller plastic bag inside the larger one to put the garbage in and dispose of the garbage responsibly when I get home.
When I am hiking I always come home with full pockets like a chipmunk’s cheeks. I pick up little pieces of garbage along the way, a wrapper here, an old piece of flag tape there. I always feel like I should improve the area I’m going through if possible.
When we were at Mount Carleton provincial park we came across a couple who had a plastic bag with them each and they were full. They told us that they always carry one when they hike and pick up a few things along the way.
Now I’m no expert (and there are lots of great resources with fantastic information) or a fanatic but I am a big proponent of making sure that everything I bring with me comes out with me. I am very safe when I do make a fire. I don’t take souvenirs.
We should also be teaching our children. They will all be adults one day and they can make change throughout that process. I think of all those bottles on Mount Carleton, those “kids” managed to get those bottles (full and heavier) to the top of the mountain so why not just throw them back in your pack to bring them back down…
I just reread the article and realize I make these place seem horrible. They are all amazing, every one of them worth visiting, they could just be so much better if they were better cared for.
Get out, explore, hike, camp and love the outdoor world but please for the love of Pete leave it the way you found it.