Leave No Trace

LNT 6 - Camping HARD!

Hello All -

This is the rest of "Camp and Travel On Durable Surfaces"...

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

At Camp -

We need to always (always, Always, ALWAYS!) choose a legal established campsite if we can find one that even comes close to meeting our needs. The bare (already compacted) areas are usually already set up very well for camping...the incremental damage that we will do by camping there is minimal. Our LNT challenge becomes simply to stay in the areas that are already heavily damaged and to not make them any bigger.

Most managing agencies make a point of establishing "sacrificial" campsites at the most durable and convenient locations for their visitors. These campsites are often subtly altered to make them even more "bombproof" without taking away too much of the "backwoodsy" feel. If we all make good use of these sites, we can do a LOT to minimize our impact in other, more fragile, locations.

The legal established campsites are always impacted to some degree. Some are well cared for and are quite pleasant...others are stinking polluted dumps. They all started out being well cared for...

The LNT equivalent of finding a legal trail (and staying on it) is finding a legal established campsite (and staying in it). Most times, either isn't too hard...but, sometimes, there just ain't one where we want to go <g>.

**** TIME OUT ****

Another couple of definitions: "impacted" and "pristine" backcountry.

Pristine is the easiest. A chunk of backcountry is completely "pristine" if we can't tell that man has ever come near. An alpine meadow with beautiful flowers and no indication AT ALL of visits from humans is pristine. An area burned over by a forest fire, scoured by an avalanche, or flooded by the nearby wild creek...with no indication that man has ever visited...is just as pristine.

Impacted is at the other extreme. It does NOT mean "beat up"...it means "beat up by man!" Impacts can be obvious (later stages of any of the 4 C's) or they can be very subtle (it takes a trained eye to spot the very early signs of most of the 4 C's). Impacts are good to keep track of...since we make them, we can STOP making them! It's one of the few things that we truly have control over in the backcountry <g>.

**** TIME IN ****

Choosing to camp in a pristine area means a lot more than just getting away from the crowds. The very fact that an area is pristine all too often means that we can very easily do a tremendous amount of damage with very little effort...virtually every thing we do can cause some amount of impact!

To me, camping in a pristine site is at the high end of the camping scale. I always tell my Scouts that I hope that every one of them gets a chance to enjoy this type of camping...but, they have to earn it. We spend a lot of time learning to recognize and avoid the 4 C's. We practice in the impacted sites until they have their basic camping/hiking skills down tight. We then practice these skills in pristine sites that aren't likely to be used much by others (private lands, Scout camps, etc.). When they feel that they are ready, we schedule a trip to one of the truly delightful public wild areas.

We almost always hike in groups of 6-8 Scouts (patrol) and 2-3 adults. The Scouts tent in groups of 4 and the adults usually easily fit together under a trail tarp. Sometimes the older Scouts will choose to use a tarp of their own (getting as lazy as the adults <g>). If group size restrictions allow, we might camp two or more patrols within the same general area.

We look for a site that is at least 200' away from the water source (creek, pond, etc.)...pulling back from the water allows local critters to come get their water and reduces our potential impact on the almost always fragile land/water interface (using a big bulk water container minimizes the number of visits needed to the water source). Using tents/tarps with quiet colors that blend into the surroundings and staying well away from the trail and water also helps lessen the "crowd" feeling that impacts everyone passing thru the area.

We look carefully for a site that has at least a few durable areas. My favorite is always high ground with a rock slab or large reasonably flat rock nearby. The first part of our camp to select is the kitchen area...we pick the most bombproof spot (that rock slab, perhaps) and everybody plans to hang around that durable kitchen area until they hit the hay (minimizes compaction opportunities and maximizes eating opportunities <VBG>).

The next site selected is the first tent area. We try to place it well away from the kitchen site and try to find a site that allows tent pitching with a minimum amount of disturbance to the ground cover and veggies (on pine duff, under a rhododendron bush, etc.). The tent partners drop their sleeping gear into the tent and store their packs in another location that is well away from both the kitchen and tent sites. Travel between the 3 points on the triangle is kept to a bare minimum and we always pick a different route each time we carefully move around (keeps the compaction down and helps us not crunch up the fragile veggies).

The second tent crew finds their own tent and pack sites. Sometimes the location allows us to share a single bombproof kitchen area (BIG slab of rock <g>), but they put the other two points on their triangle well away from the first tent bunch.

The adults do the same with their trail tarp...but we always let the boys pick first (our site selection job is a LOT easier!). The tarp can be pitched almost anywhere...we never have to hunt hard for a big flat spot or have to move obstructions (I have slept many a night under my tarp curled around that little bush I didn't want to destroy or with a log between me and my tarp partner).

Breaking camp in a pristine area always takes a little longer. After packing up and stashing our packs on down the trail, everyone comes back and "fluffs" up their camp site. If any of the veggies were tied back or mashed flat, they are gently put back into place. If anything (rocks, sticks, pine cones, etc.) was moved to make a tent area, it is carefully replaced (into its original divot, if possible <g>).

The whole object is to put the highly used part of the site (cooking, eating, socializing area) on the most durable ground and to spread everything else out so that none of the fragile places get beat up much at all. Our goal is to literally "leave no trace." The kids (and grown men/women also!) can really get into the challenge of using a campsite so lightly that a passerby couldn't tell the next morning that anyone had ever camped there.

Honest to goodness, I have seen middle-aged adults get so completely carried away with "leaving no trace" that they sprinkled scarce water from their canteens on their dry tent footprint...to make it look just like the rain-damp ground along side! Extreme? Maybe...they were having huge fun and they SURE had internalized the LNT message <VBG>.

First choice in any heavily used backcountry area is always the many impacted camping sites. Almost zero backcountry ecosystems are robust enough to recover if every visitor tried to camp in the pristine areas (especially groups who are busy introducing newcomers to the sport!).

The next LNT principle is "Pack it in, Pack it out"

See you at "LNT 7- PiiPio"

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



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