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Leave No Trace Principles
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Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Leave No Trace Principles on 10/20/2006 12:13:51 MDT Print View

Hi All,

I wanted to get some feedback from folks about your "minimum impact camping" principles.

The LNT Institute espouses their own version of the dogma. I'm wondering how many people abide by the letter of these LNT guidelines in their backcountry travels.

Certainly there are other "laws and regulations" unique to individual wilderness areas (e.g., distances required between camp and water). So, I'm wondering if people generally honor those official regulations as well.

There are no judgments being made here, I want this to be an open forum.

And, I will be the first to admit that I don't adhere to the letter of the law or LNT's official principles all the time. Personally, I am in my own state of flux about the extent to which we should follow the LNT Institute's guidelines, although generally I'm inclined to respect and honor legal regulations instituted by land managers, even if I don't agree with them.

Specifically, I'm interested in people's practices for:

- camping areas (durable surfaces, established or nonestablished campsites, distance from water and trails)

- toilet practices (catholing, TP type, other practices)

- kitchen water disposal

- group camp sizes outside of designated group camping sites.

- campfire practices, including location relative to water and trails, do you remove pits you make, do you use existing pits, what governs your decision to acquire wood, etc.

I'm looking forward to an engaging discussion!


--- Ryan Jordan -- Publisher --

Nathan Moody
(atomick) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Leave No Trace Principles on 10/20/2006 14:17:37 MDT Print View

Very interesting topic, Ryan. Here’s how I generally approach LNT guidelines…and note that I use that word purposefully, and that I see them as guidelines as opposed to hard and fast rules.

I camp primarily in the Sierra Nevadas, with multiple wilderness areas and management agencies, each with its own variations of setbacks from water sources, fire regulations, and so forth. I tend to err on the side of being conservative, pacing off 80-100 steps between where I set up camp and water sources. But, of course, it depends so much on the specifics of each trip.

I often camp less than this distance to water, though, if a good spot is available, but when I do I try to be careful. However, when it comes to broadcasting gray water, toilet needs, and other matters of waste, I *always* travel more than 100 paces from these sources to dispose of such things. For biological human waste, my minimum limit is both 100 paces from camp and water. If I know I am camping with others who might not be so careful, or if we’re using anything that’s an aerosol (like sprayed DEET), I’ll suggest a campsite at a safer distance or insist on application of such things at a 100-pace safer distance.

If I absolutely must move or dig anything in a campsite, even an established one, I put it all back to how I found it when I break camp down. I never dig trenches of any kind.

My pathetically set-in-its-ways Western Civilization brain is currently preventing me from packing out human waste. I dig deep catholes, bring biodegradable TP, stir vigorously, and all that (no burning of TP)…and of course I spend a good amount of time finding isolated place to do my business.

I never set fires unless there are fire pits already. Luckily so far I’ve not needed to build a fire for survival, which certainly would trump such existing guidelines. Of course I only collect deadfall when I do have a fire.

At the end of the day I do try to spend effort on being respectful and reasonable, but at the same time I’ll bend the rules/guidelines when I know I can do so but still prevent pollution or disturbed environments. It adds time to camp chores, for sure, and there are limits as to how much effort I’m willing to make.

But, in summary, I leave things as *I* would want to find them the next time I head into the wilderness. I just feel that it’s not just environmental stewardship, but common courtesy.

Dylan Skola
(phageghost) - F

Locale: Southern California
Western Waste on 10/20/2006 17:17:16 MDT Print View

My pathetically set-in-its-ways Western Civilization brain is currently preventing me from packing out human waste.
"Western Civilization" is probably the only culture where even suggesting this concept won't get you labeled as completely off your nut or worse.

But I know what you mean . . .

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
leave no trace principles on 10/20/2006 17:46:22 MDT Print View

Interesting and timely topic, indeed. I feel a common sense approach to leaving that which we all hold sacred works best. Generally that means following the rules set out by the powers that be. Other times it means allowing common sense to override said rules. The one I find myself most commonly ignoring is the 100 feet from water camping rule to allow myself to use an established campsite rather than disturb unspoiled vegetation. In that case, I make darn sure to follow a rigorous no further trace routine, i.e. no wash water, no fire, restore duff to sleeping area upon departure, remove existing litter, etc. When defecating, I always go at least 100 yards from water and look for a depression where rain or snowmelt will pool and filter down rather than run off and eventually end up in the water. I also burn my used TP as my observation has been that paper of any kind is extremely slow to break down, probably due to high lignin content, whereas ashes, mostly mineral, diffuse into the soil rapidly. I have checked under specific rocks used during last year's trip on a number of occasions and found this to be the case, and have also found it to be the case in my fairly extensive backyard composting operation. As for washing utensils with soap, why bother? I find it easier to reconstitute dehydrated foods and use a small amount of extra warm water to stir around in my bowl afterward to remove any residue, which I drink. Sometimes I have to repeat the operation, but it works; I haven't used soap to clean dishes in years. If you're into gourmet cuisine, with oil involved, this is not an option, however. As for packing out either *BEEP* or used TP, no way! I've watched dogs tuck into a pile of doo doo like it was a Porterhouse steak. There's something there that the animal that produced it didn't extract during digestion that the dog can use. I assume that in the backcountry, where beggars can't be choosers, that the same principle might apply. I do not intend to advance the cause of science by testing the hypothesis. Not to mention the aesthetic angle. Rationalization?? I also don't use toothpaste. Same rationale as soap.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Leave no trace principles on 10/20/2006 17:56:18 MDT Print View

Further thoughts on burning TP; If fire risk is elevated, burning is clearly not an option.

David Bonn
(david_bonn) - F

Locale: North Cascades
Re: Western Waste on 10/20/2006 18:03:32 MDT Print View

I just realized I've been yelled at on three different contents for NOT throwing my trash out the window on a bus. North America wasn't one of those continents.

I think the LNT guidelines are good things, but they are guidelines. I also think they are extremely useful as teaching tools (like the ten essentials, also formerly a teaching tool). My own experience is that local knowledge and experience needs to trump fixed guidelines every time.

Probably the two places I most consistently deviate from the guidelines are when I often camp fairly close to lakes and streams (much closer than 200 feet) and with respect to disposing of *BEEP* in cat-holes 6 to 8 inches deep.

Where I most typically hike, a vast majority of campsites are within 200 feet of something wet, and quite often there are a paucity of flat spots that far away from lakes and streams. In general, anyplace two substantial streams come together you will find a campsite, and an archaeoligist friend of mine has dug a few test pits (I'll emphasize here he works for an agency that is authorized to do this, don't try it at home) at and near popular campsites. At every campsite where he dug a test pit he found fire rings that were from three hundred to nearly fifteen hundred years old. Obviously many of these campsites have been in use for a very long time.

As for cat-holes six to eight inches deep, this makes no sense if there is very little soil biology outside the top inch or two of soil (this is common in subalpine areas). It also bothers me a great deal to chop through roots and vegetation to make that cat-hole. If an established camp has a toilet of some kind I'll be religious about using that. If an estabished, popular camp doesn't have a toilet I'll try very hard to camp (and defecate) elsewhere. When I need to dig a hole, I either try to use a pre-dug hole from a downed tree or by moving a big, beefy rock and replacing the rock when I am done. I also try very, very hard to get well outside the toilet paper donut of a campsite, and usually try to get at least five or ten minutes away from camp before I look (well off a trail) for a suitable rock or downed tree. I'll use locally acquired materials for wiping where I can.

I've gone the blue-bag route on high routes and climbing trips. One thing that bothers me about blue bags is that it isn't clear to me how you legally dispose of the bag afterwards. At least one conversation I had with the local trash people was that it might well be considered hazardous waste and would be proscribed from being dumped (if you'll pardon the expression) in the local landfill. Sometimes it is a bad idea to ask for permission, I guess.

Kitchen water disposal? There's rarely more than a cupful of greywater, I will either pour that into a fire pit or walk a few hundred yards away and dispose of it on trail tread or bare rocks.

As for campfires, I very rarely have a campfire, period. Maybe once or twice a year. Always in established camp and existing fire ring unless it is a real emergency situation (which hasn't ever been necessary).

Edited by david_bonn on 10/20/2006 18:08:56 MDT.

Vick Hines
(vickrhines) - F

Locale: Central Texas
Re: Leave No Trace Principles on 10/20/2006 18:23:15 MDT Print View

Let's have Beyond LNT.

I think the LNT principles are the minimum or lowest common denominator principles for wildlands travel. I firmly believe that good LNT practices should include packing out anything that doesn't belong in the wild - whether you carried it in or not, and renaturalizing human impacts you find to the extent that it is practical.

The impact of large mammals builds up pretty fast even when most folks follow the LNT rules and even when the backcountry is "designed" for lots of human traffic as it is in some national and state parks. That is why LNT is not good enough. It does not keep the backcountry pristine. Far from going too far, LNT principles are too wimpy.

In areas with moderate use and little regulation, the only way to avoid wrecking it is for everyone to act as if they were being hunted. If everyone simply follows the basic LNT guidelines, they WILL leave traces. If they acted as if a murderous tracker were on their trail, perhaps concentrated use would not be necessary. Hey, a new job for the park rangers!

I am a little worried that some folks carry UL a little too far, and depend on woodcraft to make up for inadequate equipment.

I support incorporating a standard into UL principles that a ULer should carry all the gear needed to avoid having an impact on the environment. Any lesser standard takes us back to the old woodcraft practices where the environment is marked and marred for our comfort.

After lots of squirming, I have come to believe that concentrating impact is a good idea in high use areas -- where "concentrating" means designated camping areas, privies, designated fire rings and so on. Problems occur when the designated areas are not appropriate, but that is another issue.

The LNT problem becomes acute in desert and canyon environments.The separation of human impacts from water sources is more critical. Human waste disposal is more difficult. Human traces can last centuries. The cost of human impact escallates, and the obligations of wilderlings increase proportionately.

SPECIFICS you asked about:
Camping areas: I personally camp so a good tracker, such as I am, cannot find the site when I leave. I believe that is the minimum standard.

The issue of free-standing tents intrudes here when camping in hard-rock country and canyonlands and sometimes in high desert. Often the only place for a non-free-standing tent is too near water - because that is where the soil is. Again, I would apply the general principle: A responsible wilderling should carry the gear needed to avoid leaving an impact. If traveling in country where a free standing tent is the only way to camp away from water sources, then carry a free-standing tent.

Dishwater: Real backpackers drink their dish water. Ultralighters don't have dishwater. They freezer bag. SULrs bulk bag their food to save packing weight. Like BPrs they drink the water and preserve those precious calories.

Toilet practices: Depends on the ecosystem. A savvy wilderling knows the difference between biologically active soils and dead or mineral soil. Anyone who can't tell the difference is a dunce. Poop in active soil. In canyons, blue bag it...period.

TP? Ryan, for the Goddess's sake, don't use those blue shop cloths. They last forever. I ran a test in a highly biologically active area. Blue towels lasted an average of 6 months!!! And they were still blue! Regular TP dissolves pretty fast. If you need a heavy duty wipe, Kleenex makes a heavy, soft paper towel that disintegrates 3-4 times faster than the shop towels.

The really super solution is a backwoods bidet -a cap with a few holes on a platypus bottle. No TP and a better wash up. No more skid marks.

Campfires: In appropriate environments, campfires seem OK. But I am skeptical whether the general packing public knows squat about fire ethics and safety. I've seen too many fires built on the forest duff that have burned acres, for example. Given my druthers, I'd limit fires to contained stoves using detritis or to officially sanctioned fire rings where the impact is competently evaluated. Even then, fire rings tend to become trash heaps with foil scraps, rusty cans and other discards. And if you will take a close look around any area that has had a fire ring for several years, you will find that incompetent ground apes have cut live wood, damaged trees and other woody plants and generally changed the local environment.

Now, you can build fires responsibly, and I can build fires responsibly, but our having that opportunity in most places means there will have to be a fire ring and that means other human critters will be building fires and they have not learned anything in 2.5 million years. So there.

Edited by vickrhines on 10/20/2006 20:38:41 MDT.

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Habits on 10/20/2006 18:50:21 MDT Print View

I generally hike along the AT...previously in TN/NC and now PA. Most trips are 1-2 nights.

- Plan Ahead and Prepare - I try to do this, and have not had any significant problems.
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces - I usually hike on trails and camp at shelters/hammock/established camp site. Many of the sites on the AT are overused. When at National parks, I only stay at allowed sites.
- Dispose of Waste Properly - I pee well away from water. If I have to *BEEP*, it is at a composting toilet or I use a cathole. I use the blue shop towels that RJ recommended since they have the robustness that I appreciate. When I was on Yosemite last year, I did bury my waste and paper, as opposed to carrying out my paper as was required. Next time I would change that and follow the rules. I always look around for my trash, and sometimes carry out others trash.
- Leave What You Find - I took some lava on two trips to the Sisters Wilderness in Oregon since the whole mountain was made of it, and it seemed hard to believe that it would make a difference. I only once dug a trench around a tent, and we removed a trace of that when we left.
- Minimize Campfire Impacts - When camping by myself, I never have a fire. My backpacking buddies always have to have a big fire in an established fire ring by the shelter, and I help collect downed wood. We make sure that the fire is out when we leave and douse it with water. I've never dispersed the ashes or stones. I return stones and fluff up the weeds/grass from my tent/tarp footprint.
- Respect Wildlife - Never bother them intentionally. Sometimes take my dog on the AT, who has chased after animals only a handful of times in 10 years, but never caught anything except the wrong end of a porcupine. I occasionally take a dip in a lake or stream, but don't use much bug spray or sun tan lotion. When required, use a bear vault.
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors - I try to be quiet, friendly, and not take up too much space. However, with frineds at an AT shelter there is drinking and loud talking late into the night since we often have it to ourselves and one guy is pretty rowdy, but I've shushed him at times. I always tell people to let me know if my dog is bothering them, and he only once got too close to a spring. My equipment has muted colors. I move over for horses, but resented the amount of manure that I experienced in Yosemite (and I grew up on a dairy farm, so it's more of a problem with how the riders deal with the waste than with the horses).

Edited by TomClark on 10/21/2006 08:10:56 MDT.

David White
(davidw) - F

Locale: Midwest
Re: Habits on 10/20/2006 19:40:19 MDT Print View

I like Tom's layout for answering this; so I'll borrow it (thanks Tom):

Plan Ahead and Prepare: Yup -- do it every time.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: I usually try to use existing campsites based on the logic that I can't really damage them much more than they already are (as opposed to even lightly damaging a pristine area). I will stealth camp in pristine areas when the existing campsites are (1) too close to water (2) already occupied, or (3) rain is probable (hardpack earth makes a great swimming pool under a tarp).

Dispose of Waste Properly: I pee away from water, dig catholes for *BEEP* and stir/bury my biodegradeable TP. I will NOT pack it out (sorry -- gotta keep some since of civilization). More importantly, I pack out not only all my trash but also anyone else's I find. I especially dislike those who insist on tying flourescent orange and pink plastic tape to the trees to find their way back out!!!

Leave What You Find: I take lots of photos. I once took an arrowhead that I found. Other than that I'm pretty good.

Minimize Campfire Impacts: When by myself, I never light a fire. Rarely with others I might make a campfire in an established fire ring in which case I religiously follow fire safety guidelines. I may not however scatter the ashes simply because, in an established fire ring, there's already lots of ashes there.

Respect Wildlife: Think I'm pretty good here. I also avoid camping near water sources to avoid inteferring with wildlife's access to the water.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors: I will have friendly, short conversations with those that I meet on the trail; but I try to camp in isolation of others. My camps are quiet and I prefer muted colors for my gear. I HAVE been know to get a little mouthy with those who are inconsiderate of me or are inconsiderate of the wilderness.

In summary, I guess I generally follow the spirit of LNT. But like most here, I will try to apply common sense to what are in fact guidelines and not rules.

If my version of "common sense" is in fact wrong and someone explains it to me; I'm likely to try and change my ways accordingly.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
LNT Ethics on 10/24/2006 19:11:18 MDT Print View

Good stuff. I'm happy to see that everyone is across the board about this. I very much respect that many of you invoke your own reasonable judgment in actual practice.

For example, when you are confined to a campsite that is less than x00 feet from water (as you are in YNP in many instances), you take the extra care to invoke a good ethic.

I have areas to work on, for sure, especially with respect to firebuilding and my tp selection. I'm searching for a more durable TP that is not as resilient as a blue shop towel! But my efforts for LNT pooping have really focused on minimizing my use of TP in the first place.

As for firebuilding, I'm building fewer fires and increasingly using my wood stove, which leaves zero scar to clean up whatsoever. Confining my fires to existing fire rings is hard where I usually like to travel (wilderness areas and off trail).

Since I moved to a 100% synthetic clothing system (and away from a down jacket and bag) for longer trips in wet weather, my need for a big hot warming fire has been virtually eliminated. Those babies, especially if built in new spots, really hammer the land.

I too, am open to change my ways. I think it's important to be receptive to different ideas on a topic that can be quite controversial.

Vick Hines
(vickrhines) - F

Locale: Central Texas
Re: Re: Leave No Trace Principles on 10/24/2006 20:05:56 MDT Print View

Haunting wilderness areas and going off trail changes your situation considerably compared to that of folks who stay on the main routes. For one thing, your traces have longer to heal before someone else comes along to add to them, and will often be lost in the great scheme of things.

The big problem is, where does practical, reasonable adaptation stop and rationalization begin? I'll be the first to admit letting the standards slip after a day of freezing rain and insipient hypothermia - or just being beat to my socks. I can rationalize all kinds of things when I feel close to the edge.

At the same time, I know that you like to get to an off-trail, pristine, perfect campsite that looks as if no one had ever been there before - and not find traces of the last occupant. So being off trail does not mean we can drop our guard.

When way out in the far back of beyond, I like a fire now and then. But when I leave, there will be no trace. I build my little Indian fire on bare mineral soil, sometimes after excavating. I make sure to leave no partially burned wood. I scatter any smoked rocks, and replace the groundcover. If someone else comes along and wants a fire, they can start from scratch. That's OK. It's better than coming back next year to find that a party has taken advantage of a fire ring I have left and used it to "butn trash", leaving bits of foil and other garbage in a charcoal mess.

It is really difficult to find truly untrammelled wilderness. Folks wander all over all the time. And we have a natural human tendency to follow others. Just watch folks at a pedestrian crosswalk. If anyone crosses against the light, almost everyone else will. Same thing with human impact in the wild. Trash attracts trash. After all, that fire pit is already messed up, isn't it? A little more won't hurt.

I guess I would draw the line something like this: If my life or someone else's life depends on it, then I will take what measures I need to take regardless of LNT. If it is just a matter of comfort and convenience, I don't have the right to do something that will diminish anyone else's experience or to compromise the integrity of the environment.

Edited by vickrhines on 10/24/2006 20:06:55 MDT.

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
LNT Website on 10/24/2006 21:08:05 MDT Print View

I was surprised how little info there was on the LNT website about different scenerios, options, and the reasoning behind suggested choices. There was a long list of references, but VERY few of them had links. More about membership, corporate sponsorships, and T-shirts then in-depth discussion that someone could walk away with after viewing the webpage. Nothing like BPL's FREE "Lightweight Backpacking 101," which really provides the reader with an understanding of a topic.

The books & DVD's looked most interesting. I had read the Watermans' book "Backwood Ethics" several years ago and thought that had much more information and was filled with open minded discussions.

P.S. I'm in the middle of the book about Guy Waterman..."Good Morning Midnight--Life & Death in the Wild." Interesting story, if somewhat onerous writing.