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LNT - medium well
Hello All -
A few VERY general and personal LNT-type suggestions about campfires:
Learn to do without campfires. Enjoy the ease of cooking over a
backpacking stove and then later relish the quiet beauty of becoming part
of the wild backcountry night (instead of hiding from it around a
campfire). Enjoy being able to smell the woods instead of campfire
smoke...and surprise yourself into appreciating a downed snag for the
complex and interesting critter habitat it is becoming...rather than for
its qualities as potential firewood <g>. Choose equipment and clothing
that allows you to handle the worst possible weather without needing to
build a fire for warmth or to dry things out.
Always camp in impacted campsites if they can be made to work for your
personal camping needs. If having a true pristine wilderness camping
experience is not an important goal, then default to an impacted site. Use
impacted campsites to train novice campers...that way the new guys will
have the pristine areas to graduate into as a reward for having gone to the
trouble of learning appropriate advanced camping skills.
Try to enjoy that impacted campsite without a campfire...but, if you just
gotta have a fire, be sure to use the existing fire ring. Set aside a set
amount of time to gather firewood, say about 15 or 20 minutes. Use that
time to take a hike well away from the campsite. Make a big loop out
through the woods and don't start to gather firewood until way out in
healthy countryside. Gather only dead and down wood, no fair breaking
limbs off of trees or pushing snags over <g>. Look for wood small enough
that it can be broken by hand (wrist size or smaller). Gather whole
branches, but only a little here and a little there...not all from any one
place. Try to keep it so that no one would be able to tell that the
firewood has been removed.
Gathering only wood that is relatively small helps make sure that the wood
removed from the ecosystem can be replaced in the next season or so...AND
it keeps us lazy hikers from having to carry a saw or an ax <g>. Keep the
branches whole until they have to be broken up to feed the fire. Use the
absolute minimum firewood needed to get the job done and let it burn down
to a fine ash. Take the unbroken branches left over and throw them back
out in the nearby woods that have been denuded...maybe, just maybe, the
next campers will leave them there to decay and replenish the soil. Don't
make a courtesy wood pile...the object is to NOT remind the next group to
build a fire <g>.
I know that I don't have to say anything to this list about making sure the
fire is completely out when untended, etc...(all that Smoky The Bear
It would be completely unreasonable to ask campers to undo all the various
impacts that added up to create an impacted campsite (that's what
maintainers are for <VBG>!)...BUT, it sure seems to me that it shouldn't be
too much to ask for campers to try to not make it any worse!
The whole issue of what to do in an area that is just starting to become
impacted in an interesting one. The temptation is to try to erase any sign
of a campsite (destroy fire rings, etc.) to try to discourage others from
camping there and turning it into an impacted campsite. Often these kinds
of decisions need to be made in coordination with who ever manages that
chunk of backcountry. Sometimes camping spots are deliberately allowed to
become impacted (designated sacrificial sites in relatively "bombproof"
locations) so that they will attract campers and take some of the pressure
off of the more fragile pristine areas.
Ahhhh...what about the truly wonderful pristine backcountry? First and
foremost: FORGET THE CAMPFIRES!!! Try hard...try REAL hard...I hope my
previous LNT posting started to make the case for an understanding that
campfires are one of the quickest ways that we can screw up some absolutely
fantastic wilderness. But, if you just gotta...if the devil made you do
it...if you simply HAVE to have a campfire...then there are some ways that
we can at least minimize the damage done.
The trick is to keep the fire as small as possible (minimize the firewood
needed and reduce the amount of smoke and ash produced) and to keep it from
sterilizing the ground. Kahlena's fire pan is an excellent solution (we
are starting to see rafters, canoeists, and horse packers carrying fire
pans...more and more). Rocks or metal tent stakes can be used to raise the
fire pan far enough above the ground to keep the heat from damaging the
If a backpacker is too lazy to carry a fire pan (I am afraid that I fit in
that category <g>), an (almost as easy) alternative is to build a mound
fire. Take your sleeping bag stuff sack, grab your cat hole trowel, and
fill the sack with mineral soil (the non-burnable soil down below the layer
of organic soil). Lay something (a garbage bag, a shirt, space blanket,
etc.) down on the ground where you want the fire and dump the dirt on top
of it. Pat the dirt into a mound that is 6-8 inches high and slightly dish
shaped on top (keeps the coals from rolling down and burning your shirt
<g>). Build a twiggy fire on top of the mound. Gather the firewood as
described above, but try to keep it even smaller (thumb thickness). Let
the wood burn down to fine ash and then dump the ashes and dirt back where
ever the dirt came from (sand bar, under the root mass of a toppled tree,
etc.). Dust off your shirt and the stuff sack, fluff the grass under the
fire site, and nobody will ever know that combustion took place <g>.
Better yet...forget the campfires <VBG>!