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Leave No Trace

Here is an example of the plea by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, along with the support of various hiking and conservation organizations, for people to practice a “Leave No Trace” ethic when wandering in the New York State Forest Preserve (a designated “wilderness” area:

I am extremely sympathetic to the LNT ethic and try my very best to practice it when out in the wilderness (or really when I am in just about most places. Unfortunately, from the level of economic understanding I see out in the public it occurs to me that I also practice LNT in my classrooms too!). But the entire ethic and our entire conception of wilderness and wild places is hopelessly confused.

I am working on a personal story of wilderness and wildness and perhaps I will publish it here one day. But for now, here is but one small illustration of the confusion:

This is one of many, many, many boulders in the Adirondack wilderness. This particular one rests in the col just North of Hough Peak on the herd path over to Dix Mountain. Leave No Trace? Heck, it seems like the entire point for some people in these areas is to leave traces. When I did my first wilderness hikes some two decades ago it was before the advent of the frequent use of trekking poles. And when traveling in wild areas with no marked trails, it was quite a challenge to find one’s way using map and compass. Here in the Adirondack High Peaks, roughly 22 of the 46 high peaks have no formal trails on them. This may lead one to believe that you are wandering through lightly traveled wilderness untrammeled by man.

But no. There are well traveled “herd paths” from important way points to destinations that make it almost possible to travel without a map at all (I would not recommend that). And take a look at the rock in the above picture. Every stone, root, branch, moss patch, bog, path and field up in the high peaks has been scarred with the markings of trekking poles. I don’t exactly know how this fits in with the Leave No Trace ethic. It sure seems to me to be leaving more than a trace. Indeed, there trek marks are so prominent that one almost could find one’s way from peak to peak by following these marks only. When we think of Leave No Trace we tend to think it only means packing out what you pack in, not cutting or trampling wild areas, and if you wander in a wild area to do your best to return it to its natural state upon exiting. But in terms of experiencing wilderness, it feels like heading into actual wilderness is not the best place to do it. As I said, there’s lots to talk about here, but let’s stop for now.

One Response to “Leave No Trace”

  1. Trey says:

    This post reminds me of how outdoor user groups do not understand one another.

    I enjoy climbing and hiking. To me, a good vacation is one spent in the mountains.

    I’ve talked to hikers who question climber’s use of bolts in rock. But a purist could question hikers use of trails. Surely they both scar the natural landscape (keeping in mind that Nature herself is responsible for most of the “scarring” of the landscape). It seems rather obvious to me that a trail along a hillside is a bigger blight than a bolt on a high rockface.

    This has led to friction among user groups. In particular, the Texas Mountaineers, a climbing group in Dallas, is an offshoot of a local Sierra Club. As I understand it, there was some friction between hikers and climbers in the Dallas Sierra Club organization at one time, and they eventually split off.

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