Alphabet Soup: LNT and the AT

In my post, Alphabet Soup: NOLS and the AT, I noted that sometimes the acronyms and abbreviations we use related to hiking and backpacking can sound like alphabet soup to the uninitiated, and I reflected on my experience with NOLS and the AT.  In this follow-up post I write about LNT and the AT.  I plan to complete this series of three posts on October 27, 2016 with a post about WFA and the AT on October 27, 2016.

I hope just about everyone reading this knows that LNT is an abbreviation that stands for Leave No Trace. After all, I am not the first person on Appalachian Trials to write about LNT . In 2015  Paul “Big Tex” Bunker  posted Leave No Trace Principles on the Appalachian Trail. Last year, Joe Schmidt posted A Walk in the Woods: How “Leave No Trace” Ethics Are the Mark of Today’s Trail Ambassadors, and about two weeks later, Cosmo posted Why Leave No Trace Matters, a piece that includes some of the history of LNT. All three are fine articles, and I encourage you to read them. It seems, however, that I am the only person to write about LNT so far in 2016. and I think LNT is important enough that we hear about it on a regular basis.

Like many hikers and backpackers of a certain age, meaning my age, meaning old, I was taught some questionable camping practices in my youth. I have since been enlightened. My enlightenment came through my NOLS Outdoor Educator Course way back in the dark ages of August 1975.  It was on that course, in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, that I was first exposed to what was then termed “Minimum Impact Camping.” Even as late as The National Outdoor Leadership School’s Wilderness Guide, published in 1983, Peter Simer and John Sullivan were still writing about “minimum impact” backpacking not LNT because LNT had not yet been coined.

When Bruce Hampton and David Cole published the First Edition of NOLS Soft Paths: How to Enjoy the Wilderness without Harming It in 1987, they were still writing about “Minimum Impact” rather than LNT, but by the Third Edition of Soft Paths, published in 2004, LNT was already about ten years old!

Because LNT techniques are continually being refined and are somewhat different than the minimum impact techniques I learned in 1975, I decided back in 2005 to enroll in a LNT Master Educator Course, the highest level of LNT training. And since LNT techniques vary according to the environment and I hike and backpack mostly in the Appalachians, I chose to enroll in a course taught in Shenandoah National Park, one of the few Master Educator courses at that time taught east of the Mississippi.

Along with seven other students and two instructors, I started the first morning of the course at the Skyland Resort and Conference Center along the Skyline Drive. Our first day was filled with classroom instruction, and we spent that night sleeping in inside. The next morning we packed up and hit the trail spending the next four days and three nights backpacking through lesser known and wilder areas of Shenandoah National Park teaching each other and practicing the skills related to LNT. We avoided the AT so that we would not impact an already heavily impacted trail.  One of our two Instructors was the Backcountry Ranger for Shenandoah National Park, and the other was NOLS Instructor.  Both of them were LNT Master Educators.

I found that backpacking four days and three nights with nine other like minded and experienced backpackers committed to learning and practicing LNT techniques was preferable to simply reading about those techniques and trying to learn and practice them on my own. I was able to learn from my peers as I observed their LNT techniques and they critiqued my LNT methods. It was a worthwhile experience that took me well beyond the “Minimum Impact” techniques I had learned at NOLS thirty years earlier.

Over ten years after my LNT Master Educator Course, regardless of whether I am hiking around the front country near a parking lot at Raccoon Creek State Park in western Pennsylvania or in the backcountry miles from the nearest road, I possess the awareness, the training, and the skills to leave no trace of my having been there. In fact, I usually come home with a bag full of trash I find on the trail as I often stop to pick up any cans, bottles, or wrappers I find while hiking.  Unfortunately, I am not able to cover over graffiti or repair freshly cut and broken tree limbs.

Not everyone out for a day hike or thru-hiking on the AT, or any other trail, can or will want to take a LNT Master Educator Course. However, the more people who learn LNT techniques through an hour long awareness seminar or two day and overnight Trainer Course, and practice those techniques while hiking and backpacking, means that trails like the AT can handle more people while suffering less impact, and all our trails and wilderness experiences will be enhanced.

By way of review, or introduction if need be, here are the seven LNT Principles for the backcountry. Don’t just know them. Practice them!

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors
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