Leave No Trace
By Susanna Nilsson - Denver Alpha Betty
The Bold Betties respect wild things. Many of us ARE wild things! We also respect the things that inspire and empower us, and that means that we respect nature. However, Colorado’s hikers are not respecting the environment as much as they should and this results in closures for restoration, an increase in diseases such as E.coli in water sources, accumulations in garbage that rangers have to pack out (this is NOT their job BTW), severe destruction in resources, and increases is permit restrictions. In Colorado last year, over 260,000 people hiked up the 54 Colorado mountains known colloquially as the 14ers, or mountains with peaks over 14,000 feet in elevation. This kind of foot traffic and backcountry camping can have a huge impact on the wild places we enjoy and share. That is why the Bold Betties employ the practice known as “Leave No Trace”.
You’ve probably heard that phrase, but what does it mean? Leave No Trace principles are the best practices the Bold Betties (and all outdoor enthusiasts SHOULD) employ to protect our wild, natural spaces.
We’ve all seen garbage, seemingly friendly critters begging for food, trail erosion, polluted water sources and more along the trails we embark upon. And yes, we all know to not litter or feed the animals, but even if we aren’t intentionally causing harm, we may be lacking knowledge to truly preserve our natural spaces.
Based in Boulder, CO the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics teaches a course of 7 best practices for all people to embody in an effort to protect our natural resources now, and in the future. The Bold Betties strive to employ all of these practices, as well as teach their meetup members to adhere to these practices so that we can sustain our quest for wildness.
Who Should Use Leave No Trace Principles?
The Leave No Trace principles matter both in the remote backcountry (for overnight campers), as well as day users who can access an area by car: day hikers, snowshoers, fisherwomen, dog walkers, dispersed camping etc. So in a word: everyone.
The Seven Leave No Trace Principles
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire)
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of other visitors
Plan Ahead and Prepare
Traditional “Gear Pic on a Tarp” – what two people brought up Mt. Rainier
In the wild, you can encounter storms, wildlife, and harsh conditions. If you aren’t prepared to handle these and other setbacks, you can make poor choices due to fatigue or fear. Bold Betties plan ahead, do their research and pack appropriately.
- Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.
- Visit the website for the wilderness area to learn about regulations.
- Read recent reviews on 14ers.org or alltrails.com to see if there are any obstacles, closures, or restrictions such as required permits.
- Cross check multiple weather sites for forecasts at all elevations you’ll be visiting
- Prepare for extreme weather, hazards and emergencies.
- Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
- Protects trails from erosion and also preserves the outdoor experience!
- Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
- Many areas have restrictions for group sizes or require permits – always check!
- Repackage food to minimize waste.
- Food waste attracts animals and reduces the likelihood of accidentally littering. This can be particularly important in bear country, where animals will seek out food sources and can attack people.
- Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.
- A good reason to learn an awesome new skill: Orienteering! (Anecdotally, this is important!)
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
We all have to take breaks, so take some time to scout out durable surfaces for lunch breaks and campsites. Look for surfaces like established trail pullouts, rock, gravel, dry grass or snow.
In popular areas (day use and backcountry), concentrate use on existing trail infrastructure and campsites.
- Camp at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
- Protects the area from erosion and preserves the water sources for wildlife and downstream users.
- Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
- Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when it's wet or muddy.
In pristine areas:
- Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
- Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
This backcountry campsite was located above a beach where we had to use a fixed rope on a bluff to access the remote site.
Dispose of Waste Properly
- Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter. Always leave a place cleaner than you found it.
- Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished. (Some highly impacted areas, like Muir Base Camp on Mount Rainier or riverside campsites in the Grand Canyon, require human waste to be packed out, too.) Refer to Principle #1 to check your areas regulations on human waste.
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
- Buy a trowel and always bring a couple of Ziploc baggies to store used toilet paper and hygiene products.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
- There will always be an unsettled debate between Dr. Bronner’s users and Camp Suds users.
This principle applies to everything from litter to human waste to rinse water. Your choices on Mt. Rainier were this compostable toilet with a foot pump flush or “blue bags” which you carried out with you)
Minimize Campfire Impacts
Campfires are tradition – but they can also be incredibly destructive. There are better choices for heat sources while in the wilderness, including stoves and lanterns. Personally I like to stargaze and I even downloaded an app so I can track the constellations!
Where fires are permitted (check your wilderness area regulations!), use ONLY established fire rings, fire pans or mound fires.
- Keep fires small. Use only sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
- If firewood gathering is permitted, adhere to the area’s regulations about how much to gather
- Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
- We are no stranger to forest fires in Colorado – always make sure ashes are cool to the touch.
REI has some good tips on how to build a campfire
Dispersed camping fire in a designated pit
Leave What You Find
In Hawaii, taking a piece of volcanic rock off the island invokes the anger of the Goddess Pele and brings you bad luck. Legend has it, that removing petrified wood from the National Park in Arizona will also bring you bad luck. Better to just leave everything as you find it and only take pictures and memories with you.
- Preserve the past: Examine, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
- Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
- Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species: Clean boot soles, kayak hulls and bike tires off between trips.
Do not build structures, furniture or dig trenches.
Pristine beaches in the remote Olympic Peninsula, WA
I know, it’s tempting to want to get closer for that perfect shot, but they are wild animals and can exhibit erratic and dangerous behavior, especially if other people are not adhering to these principles and are feeding or encroaching on native species.
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
- And please, no wildlife selfies.
- Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
- Bear cans are often recommended when backpacking
- Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
- This means on leashes or on voice control and in sight at all times.
- Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young or winter.
- Locally, there are often closures for nesting seasons or to keep populations of wildlife healthy. Always check for any potential closures due to wild animal needs.
Bald eagle hunting fish in the Pacific Ocean
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
- Not the time to be a “woo girl”
- Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
- Especially if they are traveling uphill
- Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
- Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
- Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.
- No one wants to be hit by a stray bullet
- Manage your pet.
- If the sign says leashes are required… keep your dog on a leash. This is for the protection of your pet from wildlife (like mountain lions and bears), other wildlife from the dangers of your pet (I won’t go into detail about the time we found a slain marmot that dog owners left to die in the middle of the trail…), and nature from the waste that your pet leaves behind.
“Treat others the way you would like to be treated” is a rule that applies in the outdoor communities, too. We all just want to enjoy the fresh air and the views!
Imagine every time you visit a natural environment, you get to enjoy pristine outdoors, where even if other people are present, they are not distracting from the beauty of nature. Imagine being able to visit these wild places as often as you wanted and they never change. The Bold Betties take an active stance in respecting nature and encourage all of our event attendees to enforce the Leave No Trace guiding principles, ensuring that women of all ages can continue to Discover Their Bold time and again.
Susanna is a knowledge-hungry adventurer, eager to learn new skills and take on the outdoors. When she's not executing business strategy or consulting with clients, she is practicing her climbing knots, planning an outdoor excursion or training for her next challenge (Mt. Rainier and the Canyonlands Half Marathon were her two goals in 2016). Susanna is an advocate for mentorship and serves as a mentor for undergrads at CU Boulder through the Professional Mentorship Program. Her meet-up events will focus on furthering outdoor education and skills and pushing you to defy your own expectations. Adventure on!