It’s up to all of us to spread the Leave No Trace message

By Nancy Sosnove

My husband, David Roberts, and I are section hikers who live in Washington. We have been hiking the Pacific Crest Trail almost every year for the past four decades. We’ve done all the PCT in Washington, some sections twice and some three times. We love this trail!

We have seen many changes in that time, but the most dramatic is the increase in popularity of the hike. We used to see about 20 people on our annual 10-day backpacking trip, and now we see more than 20 a day! But some, not all, of them don’t seem to know anything about Leave No Trace or wilderness ethics, which is sad for them and bad for the backcountry.

So, whether you are contemplating a thru-hike, a section hike, a weekend backpacking trip or a day hike, the first place to start might be a careful reading of Leave No Trace principles at the Center for Outdoor Ethics website. There is also good Leave No Trace information on the PCTA’s website.

A thru-hiker makes camp on a durable surface: a boulder. He won't be leaving compacted soil, damaged plants or an obvious camp behind. Photo by Ethan Gehl

A thru-hiker makes camp on a durable surface: a boulder. He won’t be leaving compacted soil, damaged plants or an obvious camp behind. Photo by Ethan Gehl

There are standard and accepted practices that we all should know and follow, and there are reasons for all of them. The most obvious is to always dig a cathole to bury your poop, no matter how many miles you still have to go that day. We have found human excrement and toilet paper in the middle of lovely meadows and campsites. It’s disgusting. Please remember that you may be moving on, but others will come after you and they don’t want to see what you’ve left behind. Properly bury your poop and pack out your paper. Please walk lightly in the backcountry! Treat it like you would your home.

We’ve found that some hikers are leaving their garbage in outhouses and pit toilets at campgrounds along the trail. If it’s an established auto campground, there usually will be a garbage receptacle you can use. If not, don’t make other people pack out what you brought. If you carried it in, carry it out, garbage and all. This also goes for food you don’t want anymore. Be considerate.

There’s basic courtesy on the trail, like yielding to the uphill hiker. When you are climbing, you are working a lot harder, and pace is really important. If you’re descending, you can step aside and pick up your pace a lot easier.

When putting up a tent, it’s important to consider proximity to the trail, water sources or other campers. There are two rules that come into play here. Camping at least 200 feet from the trail or water is the Leave No Trace approach. And camping away from other tents is the courteous approach unless the people who were there first don’t mind you being so close. Many people go backpacking to find solitude.

Please remember that you aren’t the only people on the trail, and being courteous to others is as straightforward as remembering to leave only footprints and take only pictures. We are all sharing this magical place and these wonderful experiences. We should respect others and take care of the trail and its surrounding landscapes. The trail is for all of us and for future generations.