Leaving a Trace: Committing LNT Sins Before I Knew Better
Firstly as a disclaimer, I’d like to say that this was a one time offence and that I gravely regret my mistakes. Don’t be like me, educate yourself and be better.
I jumped at the opportunity to join some pals on my first backcountry backpacking trip a few years ago. Backpacking like I’ve always dreamed of and wanted to do? People who want me to accompany them with three other newbies??? Heck ya bud. So I accepted.
In the following weeks leading up to the departure, all four of us newbies were given a list of necessary hiking gear. Surprisingly enough, due to my brother and Dad’s experience with Boy Scouts, I was pretty well equipped. I got my pack all loaded up and we were off!
On the 8 hour drive there, I read brochures on how to react when encountering a bear or other sort of wildlife. I thought to myself, ‘ok I mean, a bit scary…but seems like I’m ready to take this on!’. Little did I know, I was about to commit so many leave no trace (LNT) sins.
Now, my friends prepared me super well for this hike and I am in no way blaming them for not educating me on LNT principles as I could have done more research. However, a little bit of warning or awareness would have saved me from my guilt I still hold today.
Leave No Trace has 7 principles that should be followed at all times:
- Plan Ahead & Prepare.
- Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces.
- Dispose of Waste Properly.
- Leave What You Find.
- Minimize Campfire Impacts.
- Respect Wildlife.
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors.
I committed sin against 5 of the 7 principles. Astounding, and quite frankly, disgusting. So without further ado I present to you:
The very first error was not planning the trip for myself or learning about LNT principles. This went against principle 1.
The very first night I got to camp sore and tired. My socks were filthy and the hiking poles I had brought did not work and were not staying at the adjusted height. Therefore, I was frustrated, tired, unused to being so filthy and I fell asleep after leaving random things strewn about our little campsite. That’s not very considerate of wildlife or other visitors that have to see all my crap. That’s principle 6 & 7. But I will have to touch on those principles again, unfortunately.
The second day I picked some flowers to take one of those trendy photos of me holding a bouquet of pretty alpine flowers with a mountain backdrop. I thought I was ~artsy~ ok? Not ok. Don’t pick flowers. They’re way prettier when they are attached to the plant they grew on!!! That’s principle 4.
On the second morning, I did what no one should ever do on a trail, I left gear just at the site. I said, “it’s for the Trail Gods now!!” leaving my dysfunctional hiking poles and dirty socks (because I didn’t want to just wash them in the river 20 m away????). I still feel awful about this. I hope that someone better than my young self found these and packed them out before wildlife found them. Despicable. When disposing of waste, the common practice is to pack it out and dispose of it once you are in civilization with proper disposal methods, ie) garbage bins. That’s principle 3.
Now, something that I was pretty unaware of even well after this trip was the world of digging cat holes. For those of you that do not know what a cat hole is, Google it. Just kidding. It’s a 6-inch hole dug by your trusty trowel in which you deposit your bodily solids. You then cover your excretions and maybe put a stick or something denoting that someone has “been there”. Well, I didn’t know this. On all three days on my hike, I straight up did my business and left toilet paper under rocks. Honestly just gross. BIG yuck. Now, this is not only gross for people who might have happened to stumble upon this, but also it is not disposing of waste in the proper manner, nor is it good for wildlife. That a triple whammy hitting principle 3, 6 & 7!!!
At least I didn’t have a campfire in a meadow or camp on a non-durable surface…right?
What I’ve Learned
Every single sin I did is not ok. If I could go back and do it all again, I would never do any of those things. However, what I would have done is prior research to ensure I was not relying solely on my friends. I would have learned about the places we were going and had a map for myself. I would have kept and packed out every last bit of garbage I produced and waited until the outhouses at the campsites to do my business. Further, I wouldn’t have picked flowers for the sole purpose of taking a photo. I would have not left things for wildlife or other fellow humans to find. I messed up and I will NEVER do that again. It is so so SO important to keep the trail and surrounding land as untouched as possible as it is so fragile.
As I embark on the PCT I will be extremely conscious of the LNT principles and follow them to a T. I will pick up garbage I find to pack out. This is both common courtesy and an effort to ensure everyone in the future gets to enjoy the trail as much as I’m sure I will.
(And also to appease the Trail Gods which I’m sure are very mad at me still).
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