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358 LNT - Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces 2011-03-07

camp on teton Glacier

As a youngster I went to the Wind Rivers Range of Wyoming for my first mountaineering trip. At camping destinations on our extended backpacking trip, the trip leader would tell us where to set our tarps. It was always on some hard packed dirt or exposed slab of rock and never in the lush grass fields where others were camping. There was not much outdoor ethics being taught at that time, so I questioned their logic. It made sense to camp on rock as you would leave no marks on the land, but camping on dirt didn't make sense. It seemed to me we should have posted a no camping sign in the middle of the hardened dirt spot so the area could recover; but my reasoning fell on death ears.

Years later I finally understood the reasoning for camping on hardened surfaces. Any travel to a backcounty area has an impact. It is impossible to leave no trace. Some travel allows a quicker recovery than others; but all travel damages the area to some extent. The more hikers that visit an area the more damage to the area.

Picture a pristine meadow, high in the mountains with a perfect stream... The first hiker travels gently and leaves a small imprint on the land. As word spreads of the area's beauty, the area becomes a destination. Many small unofficial trails begin to traverse the area. Soon, it is better to build a consolidated trail than to allow hikers to wander. As the numbers continue to increase, soon, it is better to designate camps on the hardened sites where others have camped, instead of making new marks. And as the hikers continue to come to the once pristine area, it becomes necessary to manage the area with restrictions of use.

Sleeping on dirt or rock is not as bad as it seems. Walking on a trail is even easier than going cross country. The Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces, Leave No Trace principle acknowledges the damage that backcountry travel has on the wilderness environment and suggests ways to minimize the impact.

A few tips on Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces ...

All travel has an impact on the environment.

If available, travel on hardened surfaces. At times, games such as rock hopping are environmentally friendly.

Limit group size. A large group might be able to walk in single file; but when it is time for a break they spread out over the area and create a large impact.

Do not shortcut a switchback. Stay on the trail. Cutting switchbacks causes erosion and adds rivulets of hardened unofficial trail.

Trail/land managers design and construct trails so that shortcutting is hard.

When a trail is muddy, it is better to walk in the mud than to forge a drier path on either side of the path. You spent all that money on those shoes; put them to good use and walk through the mud.

If you know an area is going to be muddy, avoid the area by planning a different route, if possible.

For cross country. travel, step lightly and if hiking in a group break the single file and spread out to avoid making a new trail.

Look for durable surfaces when traveling cross country.

Camp in designated or hardened sites.

Stay a couple hundred feet away from any streams.

Cook away from tents on a hardened or durable surface.

Sleep in a hammock! (I don't; but it would lessen the impact on certain surfaces.)

Never alter a site by digging, leveling, or trenching.

Camp out of site of the trail or destination area (a lake or stream).

Use a stove.

Restore the area after use, if possible. Try to make the area look as if a tent was never there.

Never stay more than a couple of nights at one location, unless camping on a durable hardened surface. Move each night if possible.

Let's be gentle out there!

Happy hardened trails

Leave No Trace


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