We’ve found a lot of things on the trail over the years, from little bits of trash to some pretty expensive equipment. And we don’t always know what to do about it.
The trash is easy. If it is small enough and not a bio-hazard, we’ll just pick up and pack it out. And swear a small curse on the person who left it there. We always get back to the trailhead with some extra trash.
Sometimes the trash is too big to carry, so we have no choice. The curse still holds.
But what if it isn’t trash?
We once found a perfectly packed and very expensive small tent on the side of the trail, half-way up Snow Creek in Yosemite. We were on a day hike, and we left it there on our way up. And it was still there on our way down. We discussed taking back down and turning it in to the lost and found department at the visitor center. That way it might have found its way back to its owners.
But we also considered that someone had left that tent on the trail intentionally, and were planning to come back for it later. There are a lot of climbers in this area, and rock climbers don’t like carrying tent up cliffs unless they have to. So we left it there.
(If it had been us, we would have left it in a more discreet location...so that others wouldn't see it or be confused.)
And last summer we found a very nice sandal on the trail up to second recess above Edison Lake. It was just one sandal, and we once again considered taking it back to the ferry, so that whoever lost it might find it again. In the end, we decided that it was more likely that a hiker would find it by backtracking and checking the trail, rather than the resort on the other side of the lake. So we left the sandal in the middle of the trail, where it was impossible to miss.
And a fellow passenger on the ferry commiserated with us about the fact that she had lost a sandal on that trail. We were able to tell her exactly where it was---but she wasn’t going to go back.
And on the first day of our hike on that same trail, my wife lost her hat. (It was my fault, because I had wedged it into the back of her pack, and it had fallen out.) So on the way back out, we looked everywhere for it. It was a big hat, and hard to miss.But someone had clearly found it, and picked it up.
Now my wife needs a new hat. So if you know anyone who found one in that area...