Leave No Trace

LNT 5 - Hiking HARD!

Hello All -

Nope...I ain't gonna talk about those "hardbodies" that we thru-hikers get to enjoy after a month or so on the trail <g>.

Commercial break: Remember that we ALL do damage every time we visit the backcountry...and LNT is simply the art of minimizing that damage.

Camp and Travel On Durable Surfaces

This LNT "principle" (guideline, whatever...) doesn't seem to generate too much controversy (darn!). It turns out that there are some very simple and obvious ways that we can easily minimize a lot of the damage that we hordes of humans do when we crowd thru the backcountry.


On The Trail -

The trail is just a long skinny piece of highly compacted soil! We have killed it deader than a doornail. If it starts to sprout veggies, maintainers whomp it til it's dead again. In fact, we have made the conscious decision to sacrifice that long skinny piece of land for the utility of having a trail in that particular location.

Most times, that decision didn't come any too easy. Lots of thought went into things like: land rights, permissions, cost tradeoffs, optimum design, support infrastructure, etc. Somebody went to a lot of trouble to build it (or to upgrade it to modern standards). Somebody puts a LOT of sweat and personal time into taking care of that trail. All told, "we" have paid a significant price for the utility of having that trail available for our use.

Even if we only use the measure of "cost" (when we judge the value of our trails), the value would come out quite high. If we get real and add in the measure of "worth to each individual," it becomes obvious that most of our trails are truly valuable enough to become national treasures. We PAID for that trail...let's don't waste it!

If there is a trail heading our way, we need to get on it and stay on it. The trail is already dead...the incremental damage caused by our passage will be quite low. Widening the trail at mud puddles, cutting switchbacks, and stepping off the trail to walk side by side are all pretty obvious examples of common ways that we tend to wander off the compacted trail tread. Once we step off that tread, we start compacting the fresh soil where we are walking. Before long, we have killed us a new trail...which has NONE of the value of the old one. In fact, the widening mud bogs, erosion (especially at the switchbacks!), and general eyesore from multiple trails often serves to greatly decrease the value of the main trail we came to use!

Hey...sometimes the trail just doesn't go where we want to! No problemo...there IS a way to minimize our impact. We need to spread out ("meadow walk"!) so that everybody doesn't keep stepping in the same place (helps keep the compaction down to levels that have a chance to self-repair in the "off season"). Look for the most durable surfaces to walk on (rocks, bare mineral soil, snow, dry grass clumps, thick pine duff, etc.).

All but the most durable surfaces have times when they are unusually vulnerable to damage...perhaps we all need to think twice before going out into a backcountry softened by prolonged heavy rains, spring thaw, etc.

Developing the skills needed to use a map and compass for land nav keeps us from having to mess with a lot of signs, blazes, cairns, engineers tape, and other intrusive trail markings.

If we meet horses on the trail we need to go into a "self-protection" mode. Horses spook easily...they are a LOT bigger than us, and their feet are HARD <g>. I am told by horse packers that, by far, the easiest thing for everyone is for the hiker (the smaller and most mobile of the bunch <g>) to step a pace or two off the trail on the downhill side. As we do, we need to check to see if we have any bandannas or shirttails that might be fluttering in the breeze (hold them still if we do).

Talk to the horse's rider in a normal tone of voice ("Nice day," "Do they kick?," "Got any Snickers bars?"...). Apparently the horses are not able to tell where a hiker leaves off and a backpack starts. We look like a large strangely shaped lump to them (kinda like a bear...smell funny, too...<g>). Stepping to the downhill side makes us look smaller/lower to the horses (allows us to appear much less threatening) and doing the calm talking helps them realize that it is just a human somewhere inside that lump.

Hmmmm...this is getting longer than I had planned. I will split off the "At Camp" part into another message.

See you at "LNT 6- Camping HARD!"

- Charlie II  AT (MEGA'93)
             PCT (Mex@Can'95)
         Chipping away at the CDT

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