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510 Summer Stories -
Sticks and Stones

Sandbeach Trailhead

Often times it is not easy being green.

On a hike this summer, I spoke with a couple of women at the trailhead for the Sandbeach Lake Trail in the Wild Basin Area of Rocky Mountain National Park. They were going on a multi day, over night trip for the July 4th holiday and were busy packing. Among their gear was a bear proof storage canister.

We had just purchased a Bear Vault for our summer trip; but had not used it. I had a few questions and decided to ask the packers.

"Are you going to put your cooking gear in the canister?"


"What about used toilet paper?"

'We are not planning on using any, we will use sticks and stones.'

Now in Tennessee, I do not hear many stories of hikers wiping with sticks and stones. Of course, our most common rocks are sandstone and limestone. The rock surfaces are often times jagged and always rough. I am sure I would only use a Tennessee rock in the event of an actual emergency. Our sticks in Tennessee also seem a bit rough to me. Now you might be able to whittle a stick to a smooth surface each night before going to bed, ready to use in the morning; but leaves are the natural material preferred by most paperless hikers.

As a rule, we use paper (or corn cobs - ha!) in Tennessee; but bear proof canisters are not required in any of the parks yet. When we are overnighting, we hang our used paper in a seperate bag, stowed away from our food.

In Colorado things are different and I admired the women for sticking to the green ethics and not carrying paper. My only concern was for putting the used paper in the canister with my food. Sure the used paper would be in a plastic bag; but even double bagged, it can have an odor.

I left the trailhead before the women started their trip. At Sandbeach Lake I found the lake's shores were covered deep in the lingering snows of winter and spring storms. The privy was also covered in snow and was unusable.

As this was my first hike to a backcountry campsite this season, I had forgotten that in the Park, each of the designated sites has a privy. Of course you have to supply your own cleaning materials; but carrying out or disposal of used paper products is not an issue when the privy is usable.

privy sign in snow

buried privy sign

With the snow covering all of the ground, sticks and stones were very scarce around the lake. What was in abundance was snow, or rather a crusty, dirty, frozen, surface. Beneath the surface the snow was not soft; but rather like the composition of a Slushee or Icee drink. Even though I did not need to use the privy, I was glad I had my toilet kit, filled with soft white paper.

On my return hike I met the women on the trail. Their huge packs were stuffed full and looked very heavy. When they asked about the trail conditions ... I told them about the snow conditions and suggested they collect their sticks and stones before reaching the campsite or prepare to use the icy snow. The women did not even flinch. They were seasoned packers and they probably had a secret stash of paper! Regardless, they were good sports.

Happy sticks and stones trails


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