Updates On Site and Off

Lots of things going on all of a sudden around here.  Seems like there isn’t as much time for posting because there really isn’t.  The snow is finally almost gone and I’ve actually managed to get the bicycle on the road a few times.  With the first time trial of the METTS season in just ten days it should be pretty amusing to see the faces as folks cross the finish line.  Time trials are always about pain, but without proper training they tend to make you wish you were dead.  Good fun!

Here on the site things are happening as well.  I have added a few more items to the Gear Review page.  It is all caught up now with my reviews over at the Trailspace site.  The latest additions include the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite pad and the GSI Tea Kettle.  That kettle takes up about half the space of my old pot and is perfect for solo trips.

I have also added a Long Trail section to the site.  Beyond a brief outline of my plans for the end to end trip this September there are also pages detailing my gear list and nutrition plan.  Both of those are works in progress and will probably continue to change.  Once I get back home the plan outline will be replaced with a report on the experience.

The big excitement this week has been the arrival of Mrs Stranger’s new backpack.  After a few trips to try on various makes and models she decided on the Osprey Ariel 65 in a pretty blue color.  Now we’re just waiting for mud season to progress so we can start putting it to use.

With the arrival of Spring there will probably be less time to spend writing here.  I’ll try to keep things active if I can, but really I’d much rather be out there than writing about being out there.  I do want to wrap up the Leave No Trace Principle articles though.  I think I may repackage them into their own section of the site so they don’t get lost in blog history.   I still have a long list of things to write about actually, but if I don’t get to them over the next few months they will still be there when the snow flies again.

Hopefully Spring has arrived where you live also.  Probably time for you folks to stop reading and get out there too.  If so smile and nod if we happen to pass on one of those paths less traveled by

madbearderIn memoriam of the Winter 2013-14 beard

Leave No Trace Principles: Limit Fire Impact

The next of the Leave No Trace Principles is about minimizing fire impact.  We’ve all seen the devastation out of control wild fires leave in their wake, but for LNT purposes we’re concerned with fire’s impact on a much smaller scale.  Even fully controlled, burning fuel has a big impact on the land under and around it.   If we want to limit the damage we do, as with most things, it starts with awareness and consciously making good choices.

The first thing to consider is whether you want to build a fire.   I know for many people it just doesn’t feel like camping without a roaring blaze to stare into.   Most all of us have great memories of warming up and drying off around a cozy fire, but the least impact would come from not having a fire at all.

Unless you are in an emergency situation being prepared should allow you to get warm and dry at the end of the day without lighting a fire.  I have made camp soaked to the skin after hiking all day in a cold rain and been warm and dry much sooner by setting up my shelter and getting into dry clothes than I would have been gathering wood and tending a fire in the rain.

Beyond eliminating the impact of the fire itself you’ll also be limiting your impact on the area around your camp.  Fuel gathering around designated sites can have a huge impact on a wide area if a  camp is heavily used.  Keep in mind that not only is there surface disruption from the gathering process, but by burning the fuel you are removing carbon from the local environment.

There are other non-LNT  benefits from not lighting a fire.  One is simply freeing yourself from the task.  Not gathering fuel, lighting and tending a fire leaves a lot more time to appreciate being where you are.  After going to all the trouble to reach some remote site I like to spend as much time as I can actually just being there.  Not destroying your night vision also means being able to enjoy the stars coming into view.

For all those reasons my personal choice is to not have a fire unless there is a good reason for one.  The most frequent reason I make a fire is to cook fresh fish.  If I catch a fresh trout or salmon I am NOT going to boil it in my kettle!  Another good reason for a fire is to toast marshmallows for my daughter on a family trip.  So I am definitely not saying you should never light a fire.  I’m just suggesting that you give some thought to whether you need a fire before lighting one.

If you have chosen to make a fire start by gathering fuel responsibly.  You can begin to collect small branches from the forest floor along the trail as you near your intended site.  This will reduce the amount of gathering you need to do in the camp area and spread the impact of gathering out over a wider area.  Use small branches you can break by hand.  Smaller diameter fuel will burn more completely and gives you better control by letting you add small amounts of fuel at a time.

If your camp has an existing fire ring using it will limit your impact to a previously affected area.  On the other hand if you are creating a temporary camp avoid building a fire ring so as not to disturb the local terrain.  Depending on where you travel you may want to carry a fire pan with you.  This allows you to build a small fire within a contained area.  Another option is to build a small mound fire directly on the ground using as little fuel at a time as possible.

Fuel added to the fire should be burned to ashes.  Do not add more fuel to the fire unless you are sure you have time to burn it completely.  Once the ashes have cooled they can be scattered safely which is why it is important that fuel burn all the way down.  Not only can you distribute the impact but you can be sure you are doing so safely.

Like most of the Leave No Trace Principles this really comes down to thinking about what you are doing and how that impacts the areas you visit.  Do as little as possible to disturb what you find and be thoughtful about the things you decide to do.   We can all work together to keep our favorite paths looking less traveled by


Leave No Trace Principles: Leave What You Find

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