Take only pictures, leave only footprints is one of the earliest forms of Leave No Trace ideology I recall running into. The simplicity of it made instant sense to me then, though now I try not to leave footprints either. The next of the LNT principles I want to ramble on about is Leave What You Find. Again, the simplicity makes this whole post sort of a waste of time if you’ve already grasped the concept. If you log off and go for a hike instead I won’t mind.
OK, now the rest of us who are waiting for the snow to melt or the mud to dry can continue. So far the principles I’ve talked about were mostly about not making a mess out there or tearing up trails. This one is about trying to create as little disruption to a balanced environment as possible and about preserving the irreplaceable.
As much as possible we should leave things as we find them so choosing a camp site is a good place to start. Selecting an appropriate site rather than trying to create one works best. As usual go for high density use options first. If sanctioned camp sites exist use them if possible as you won’t be adding much impact to the area.
As I discussed previously if you are setting up camp in an area without an existing site the goal is to not leave something that looks like a site when you move on. Moving logs or big rocks and making trenches are all things to avoid as they cause major disruptions to surface balance. Avoid over grooming your tent site. Pine cones have to go of course, but put them in a pile and scatter them back over the site when you leave. The same with small rocks and sticks. Sweeping an area clean of debris is not a good idea, but if you must then make an attempt to sweep material back over the area as part of breaking camp.
Another thing to avoid is the human instinct to build. Making tables, chairs, shelters or other things from rocks, trees and bushes might look like bushcraft on TV, but it is poor stewardship of the land. Spending a moment in Nature as pure as we can find it should be a time to marvel at what is there rather than changing it.
Plants may bounce back from being damaged, but far better to avoid the damage in the first place. Chopping or sawing standing trees, hacking away at brush, hammering nails into trees or carving into their bark are all against the LNT way of course. Beyond that those who hang hammocks, bear bags or other things from trees should be sure to use proper equipment and know how to use it in order to minimize impacts. If staying in one area for more than one night you may want to consider using different trees to spread the impact around.
Some folks like to harvest wild plants, berries, mushrooms and roots while on trail. Foraging has a long history especially among nomadic people and those with the knowledge to do it safely are welcome to harvest small portions. Avoid stripping an entire area or damaging soil and vegetation during the process. Gathering small amounts throughout the day along the trail is much better than doing a lot of gathering all in one spot. Even if the berries are perfectly ripe please don’t strip entire bushes. Leave some for the local bugs and bears or the next person coming down the trail to enjoy and look for another bush down the trail. Flowers on the other hand should be seen and not picked. As with hunting game only take what you will eat.
The other important category of things to leave as you found them is artifacts. This term covers both natural and human objects you encounter. Antlers and bones are examples of natural items while human objects may range from ancient tools and pottery to more modern objects left by trappers, miners, loggers and farmers who may have worked the land today’s trails pass through. I have come across some surprising things along the trail and I’m always glad that those who passed before me left them for me to find. If you take, break or even just disturb these sort of objects you are denying the folks who come after you the experience of discovery you were allowed to have.
That really is what Leave No Trace is all about of course. Enjoying the experience without changing it so that others can enjoy it too. So take pictures, leave footprints and perhaps a few leaves trodden black, but let’s all work together to make it dang hard to figure out which really is the path less traveled by