- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Considerate of Other Visitors
Previously I wondered about the relevance of #1. I personally found available literature that supported the message fell short of connecting the dots. How exactly does planning and preparation help to leave no trace?
Group size may be easier to grasp. The more people who hike together in one group, the more likely they are to want to walk side by side instead of single file. That has a tenancy to widen the trail by trampling vegetation for example.
If that seems trivial, consider this. In fragile ecosystems, roots are the best (only?) defense against erosion. Here in the White Mountains of NH I recently hiked the Welch-Dickey loop. The vast high ledges of granite were not just scenic vistas. Ledges also support small and sometimes surprisingly fragile plant life. Especially in alpine (above tree line) areas. From lichens, mosses and grasses to shrubs and trees. There is a spectrum of flora present and each plays its role in the whole. Disruption of natural harmony and symbiosis can lead (quickly) to dramatic and cataclysmic changes of landscape.
It took a long time (centuries, eons) for vegetation to take root way up there. About a century ago those peaks looked very different from today. I’m told they were densely covered with large trees. Just like the surrounding forest. But there was a bad fire that basically sterilized the ground for a while. Long enough to destabilize the soil. Then seasonal heavy rainfall that usually nurtured the lush landscape instead caused landslides. All that long accumulated high soil was wiped away leaving bald rock. A mature community of plant life was ravaged in a blink.
I supposed that’s part of a natural cycle of mountain life. What I saw was a snapshot during regrowth. In geological time my existence is insignificant. But can my actions contribute to effects like erosion through degradation of natural defenses? My impact could be far more I previously realized.
In sand dunes it can be tall grasses with deep roots that anchor the landscape. In recent travels I’ve seen that at fresh shoreline of Sleeping Bear Dunes in MI and the briny shore of Cape Cod in MA. I saw excellent examples via yucca plants at White Sands NM. But roots are not the only natural soil retainers.
In the desert playas of Death Valley NP I learned about the importance of the sun baked surface crust which anchors the silty subsoil. Foot paths were deeper because, once trampled under foot, subsequent winds eroded the ground. Bracing against sandstorms blasting through Furnace Creek Campground brought that experience home vividly.
Earth was the first primitive element? Are wind, fire and water are its foes? All four are entangled in complex ways. Take only photographs. Leave only footprints. Even those may do harm? That’s too heavy. I’d prefer to turn the tone of this post more positive.
We can try to appreciate the impact of our actions. We can try to minimize our impact. We can try. That message works for me. Leave No Trace deserves attention. Which brings back my question. How exactly does planning and preparation help leave no trace?
For me it’s not about being given the answers. Challenge the advice with questions. Think for our selves. And others! We’re supposed to be the most intelligent life form after all. So use our brains. Nor is it about just following rules. It’s not about being told. It’s not about telling others. Who loves lectures anyway? It’s about thinking before acting. Observing and reflecting. Maybe acting differently next time. It’s about learning and understanding. Caring and sharing. Don’t you think?
Final thought: #1 has a lot to do with #2-7 … if you think about.