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[pct-l] environmentally friendly?

After all the things that get talked to death here, I was surprised to find
no response regarding the fires near Wrightwood.
More than 1,700 firefighters from 18 agencies have battled the fire,
> which started Wednesday afternoon when a camper burned toilet paper.
> The camper was told it was more environmentally safe to burn toilet
> paper instead of digging a hole and burying it, Christman said.
> Burning is never a good idea in dry Southern California forests, she
> added.

Maybe there is no response because, realistically, a majority of hikers
(especially throgh hikers it seems) have litle respect for the trail.  I'm
not going to accuse that many are disprectful (though we did get the feeling
from a few fellow through hikers last year who had the attitude of "I'm a
through hiker, I can do whatever I want because I'm out for so long and am
so cool"), but I am surprised what seems to be a general lack of knowledge
regarding some safe practices.  We meant to write a letter to the PCTA
encouraging the class this year to act better, but we never got around to
it.  I encourage Joe to make this a priority in the Communicator next year,
to have the PCTA and ALDHA hold workshops on the topic at the gatherings,
and for people to really seek some info before setting out.

There were many cases which I was surprised at lack of through hikers
knowledge (such as sitting around in Kennedy Meadows listening to people
explain self arrest techiniques incorrectly), tons of novel ideas that are
bad for the environment (yes, zip stoves save weight but you still are using
up resources in the wild and allow sparks and hot reminents to be dumped,
let alone making a sooty mess), and horses and fast hikers making their own
tracks cutting trails in the effort to get further faster.

But this letter is long enough, so all I want to talk about is how appalled
we were at the ugly mess hikers make with their waste.  We encountered so
much loose T.P., would come around the corner or go to a nice camp only to
find a big pile of crap next to a rock, and even had another hiker
unknowingly leave a crap right next to our hidden tent as they began a
moonlit hike out of Agua Dulce!  And we thought those crossing the border
were bad.

Two issues here.  First, what to do with waste.  I do not claim to be any
sort of expert, but anything can be better than what we saw.  There are
really three ways I use to take care of waste, though there are more.
First, pack it out.  Climbers have often done the duty in ziplocs.  Now
there are even special canisters designed for the purpose, though I have yet
to see one.  Second, it needs to be burried properly.  We're not talking
about asthetics only here, but for all our waste that animals can get to we
are creating more opportunities to pollute the water source.  It can get
more complicated, but essentially it should be burried 6-8 inches.  I don't
really see how any hikers claiming to save weight by not carrying a 4 oz
trowell (we seemed to be the only party to have one) can get that deep
cleanly.  Sorry, but using your boot toe or heal just doesn't cut it.  An
ice axe can work, but who carries it the whole way?  And dropping a rock on
it to cover it is just plain gross.  Third, our preferred and most
interesting way is the smear techinique.  A handful of programs use it,
especially in sandy/rocky ares.  Basically, do your thing on an exposed, sun
facing, flat, away from the trail surface.  Next, take a rock (preferably
larger than your hand) and smear it as flat as can be, kind of like
painting.  Sounds gross, but I've had many squeemish high schoolers end up
having fun with it by drawing pictures.  If it's thin, the sun will bake it
in a few hours killing all the wee-beasties then a little wind and water
erosion will wash the rock clean. Obiviously this technique doesn't work too
well if its raining or you are in an area where people may be wandering
around your chosen site a lot.

Second issue is toilet paper.  Burying it simply does not work.  Not only
will it not decompose (even "biodegradable" isn't really) but animals
attracted to the odor will dig it up freeing it once again.  I think the
Wrightwood fires illustrate why burning it is just stupid (besides, nothing,
not even soot and ashes, that we bring from the outside should stay).  So it
leaves two option.  First is to pack it out.  You really won't take in that
much weight by carrying an extra zip loc.  Toss it at the first trash can
you see (not in a porta potty please as the plastic ruins it).  Second, go
paperless.  We were surprised to hear desperate people begging for a brown
bag to use.  Nature is good.  NOLS, Outward Bound, and numerous other
organized programs don't take it.  My wife and I and are partner Beth used
none for the entire trip.  Much of the stuff out there beats Charmin any
day.  Anything from Mules Ear, Skunk Cabbage, smooth rocks from a river bed,
snow (yes, that is the best!) pine needles, sticks, etc... will work.  Just
watch out for poison oak/ivy and rough wood.

I hope hikers take the subject seriously because it is a problem.  I welcome
feedback and especially new ideas as I'm always on the look to improve.
We're off to Yellowstone for a journey, but I'll get back to you in September.
Dan Rufner

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