- Part 5 -

Practice Leave No Trace Ethics

The alpine ecosystem on most 14ers and lower peaks are extremely fragile. Trampling plants or causing erosion creates damage that requires decades, if not centuries, to recover. Here are the seven principles of Leave No Trace ethics, along with how to practice them responsibly on your climb.

1) Plan Ahead & Be Prepared

The number one reason that people damage the environment is a simple lack of proper planning. If you don’t pack correctly, know local regulations, or study up on LNT, it’s impossible to be a responsible steward. Here are a few specific planning considerations related to LNT:

  • Pre-pack food to get rid of small wrappers and make clean-up easier.
  • Pack a bag to pack out your waste and garbage.
  • Look up the local regulations before visiting public land.
  • Make sure your group doesn’t exceed 8 in most wilderness areas.
  • Ensure your goals match your group’s skill level and expectations.

2) Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces

Mountains can be deceptive when it comes to their strength and resilience. While they appear strong and unbreakable, the truth is that every step you take causes erosion of our peaks. To minimize our impact, follow these key guidelines to travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  • Stay on-route, and where possible, on-trail. 
  • Keep your dogs on trail as much as possible.
  • When on off-trail routes, spread your group out to avoid travelling over the same spot.
  • Don’t try to avoid mud or puddles – this widens trails. Head straight through puddles.
  • If camping, look for campsites that are already established. Do not move rocks or plants to create new tente pads. 
  • When on snow, these rules are relaxed, as the terrain is protected. Go where you please!
  • Don’t cut switchbacks – ever! This erodes the slope.

3) Dispose of Waste Properly

Waste refers to anything that potentially pollutes the mountains: litter, food, lost gear, even human waste. Anything that didn’t come from a wilderness area that we leave there is waste. For most forms of waste, a simple rule apples: Pack it in, pack it out. Usually, that doesn’t apply to human waste – however in some wilderness areas, it does. Make sure you check local regulations before you go! Here are some in-depth tips.
  • Always bring a small bag to use to collect garbage (both yours and others).
  • Package food before you go to make clean-up easier.
  • If packing out human waste isn’t required, dig a hole 6-8 inches deep and 200 feet from water. Do not leave it uncovered.
  • Don’t bury tampons and toilet paper – they don’t decompose. Pack these out.
  • Pick up and pack out all dog waste. Do not leave it by the trail to grab on your way out.
  • If you see litter or trash, pick it up and pack it out.

4) Leave What You Find

It’s natural to see things that inspire you on your hike or climb. The key is leaving what you find on your trip so others can experience them as well. This includes both natural items like rocks and plants, as well as man-made historical relics. Here are a few considerations on this topic relevant to 14ers and the Rocky Mountains.

  • Taking rocks may seem innocent, but repeated hundreds of thousands of times, it’s problematic.
  • Wildflowers may seem limitless, but every single one is valued by pollinators. Leave them be, and take only photos.
  • Don’t build cairns or pile up rocks. Leave the mountain how you found it.
  • Memorials and other man-made monuments aren’t appropriate on 14ers.
  • Hunting any wildlife on 14ers is strictly prohibited.
  • The Rockies are full of historic relics from miners and homesteaders. Leave them be for others to find.

5) Minimize Campfire Impacts

Campfires are one of the most nostalgic parts of a caming trip. However, they also have a significant impact on the fragile mountain environment.  On most day trips, campfires aren’t really a consideration. However if you’re doing an overnight trip on a 14er (which is common on many longer routes), there are a few different things to keep in mind. 

  • When possible, avoid campfires entirely and use a backpacking stove to cook.
  • Only use establish fire pits where they are available. 
  • Watch your fire at all times, and put it cold out (cold enough you can touch the coals).
  • Do not have a fire when forest fire conditions are dangerous.
  • Don’t gather wood from trees near tree-line, as they take decades or centuries to grow back.
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6) Respect Wildlife

The Rocky Mountains are full of wildlife: From common animals like elk, bighorn sheep and deer, to rare predators like mountain lions and black bears. It’s easier to disturb and harm these majestic creates than you might expect. Here are a few guidelines to practice. 

  • Stay on the trail where possible and keep pets with you.
  • Do not feed animals, and dispose of waste properly.
  • Do not yell, chase or otherwise harass wildlife.
  • Give animals space – try to stay 50 feet away at minimum.
  • Respect trail and road closures for animal migrations and breeding season.

7) Be Considerate of Others in the Outdoors

Other hikers can have a significant impact on our own experience in the wilderness. The outdoors belong to us all, and we all deserve basic levels of respect when enjoying them. Here’s how to ensure you’re being considerate of others on the trail.

  • Follow LNT guidelines – protect the mountains for others.
  • Yield to those off-trail and step aside so they can pass.
  • Allow faster hikers to pass you.
  • Listen to music only using headphones, never speakers.
  • Keep your dog leashed or under strict voice control by your side.
  • Smile. tothose you pass and say hello!

Practicing Leave No Trace: A Review

Let’s review the most important things to consider about Leave No Trace on 14ers:

  • Plan Ahead & Be Prepared Before you Hike.
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces like Trails.
  • Dispose of Waste Properly: Pack it in, pack it out.
  • Leave What you Find so Others can Enjoy it. 
  • Minimize campfire impacts on overnight trips.
  • Respect wildlife you come across on your adventure.
  • Be considerate of others in the outdoors.

These guidelines will help you protect the mountains as you enjoy them on your climb! Now we’ll talk about what to watch for when climbing, and when to turn back. 

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