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[pct-l] LNT 6- Camping HARD!
Hello All -
This is the rest of "Camp and Travel On Durable Surfaces"...we did the
"Travel" part in the previous message ("LNT - Hiking HARD!").
Commercial break: Remember that we all do damage every time we visit the
backcountry...and LNT is simply the art of minimizing that damage.
At Camp -
We need to always (always, Always, ALWAYS!) choose a legal established
campsite if we can find one that even comes close to meeting our needs.
The bare (already compacted) areas are usually already set up very well for
camping...the incremental damage that we will do by camping there is
minimal. Our LNT challenge becomes simply to stay in the areas that are
already heavily damaged (don't make them any bigger).
Most managing agencies make a point of establishing "sacrificial" campsites
at the most durable and convenient locations for their visitors. These
campsites are often subtly altered to make them even more "bombproof"
without taking away too much of the "backwoodsy" feel. If we all make good
use of these sites, we can do a LOT to minimize our impact in other, more
The legal established campsites are always impacted to some degree. Some
are well cared for and are quite pleasant...others are stinking polluted
dumps. They all started out being well cared for...
The LNT equivalent of finding a legal trail (and staying on it) is finding
a legal established campsite (and staying in it). Most times, either isn't
too hard...but, sometimes, there just ain't one where we want to go <g>.
**** TIME OUT ****
Another couple of definitions: "impacted" and "pristine" backcountry.
Pristine is the easiest. A chunk of backcountry is completely "pristine"
if we can't tell that man has ever come near. An alpine meadow with
beautiful flowers and no indication AT ALL of visits from humans is
pristine. An area burned over by a forest fire, scoured by an avalanche,
or flooded by the local creek...with no indication that man has ever
visited...is just as pristine.
Impacted is at the other extreme. It does NOT mean "beat up"...it means
"beat up by man!" Impacts can be obvious (later stages of any of the 4
C's) or they can be very subtle (it takes a trained eye to spot the very
early signs of most of the 4 C's). Impacts are good to keep track
of...since we make them, we can STOP making them. It's one of the few
things that we truly have control over in the backcountry <g>.
**** TIME IN ****
Choosing to camp in a pristine area means a lot more than just getting away
from the crowds. The very fact that an area is pristine all too often
means that we can very easily do a tremendous amount of damage with very
little effort...virtually every thing we do can cause some amount of
To me, camping in a pristine site is at the high end of the camping scale.
I always tell my Scouts that I hope that every one of them gets a chance to
enjoy this type of camping...but, they have to earn it. We spend a lot of
time learning to recognize and avoid the 4 C's. We practice in the
impacted sites until they have their basic camping/hiking skills down
tight. We then practice these skills in pristine sites that aren't likely
to be used much by others (private lands, mostly). When they feel that
they are ready, we schedule a trip to one of the truly delightful public
We almost always hike in groups of 6-8 Scouts (patrol) and 2-3 adults. The
Scouts tent in groups of 4 and the adults usually easily fit together under
a trail tarp. Sometimes the older Scouts will choose to use a tarp of
their own (getting as lazy as the adults <g>). If group size restrictions
allow, we might camp two or more patrols within the same general area.
We look for a site that is at least 200' away from the water source (creek,
pond, etc.)...pulling back from the water allows local critters to come get
their water and reduces our potential impact on the almost always fragile
land/water interface (using a big bulk water container minimizes the number
of visits needed to the water source). Using tents/tarps with quiet colors
that blend into the surroundings and staying well away from the trail and
water also helps lessen the "crowd" feeling that impacts everyone passing
thru the area.
We look carefully for a site that has at least a few durable areas. My
favorite is always high ground with a rock slab or large reasonably flat
rock nearby. The first part of our camp to select is the kitchen area...we
pick the most bombproof spot (that rock slab, perhaps) and everybody plans
to hang around that durable kitchen area until they hit the hay (minimizes
compaction opportunities and maximizes eating opportunities <VBG>).
The next site selected is the first tent area. We try to place it well
away from the kitchen site and try to find a site that allows tent pitching
with a minimum amount of disturbance to the ground cover and veggies (on
pine duff, under a rhododendron bush, etc.). The tent partners drop their
sleeping gear into the tent and store their packs in another location that
is well away from both the kitchen and tent sites. Travel between the 3
points on the triangle is kept to a bare minimum and we always pick a
different route each time we carefully move around (keeps the compaction
down and helps us not crunch up the fragile veggies).
The second tent crew finds their own tent and pack sites. Sometimes the
location allows us to share a single bombproof kitchen area (BIG slab of
rock <g>), but they put the other two points on their triangle well away
from the first tent bunch.
The adults do the same with their trail tarp...but we always let the boys
pick first (our site selection job is a LOT easier!). The tarp can be
pitched almost anywhere...we never have to hunt hard for a big flat spot or
have to move obstructions (I have slept many a night under my tarp curled
around that little bush I didn't want to destroy or with a log between me
and my tarp partner).
Breaking camp in a pristine area always takes a little longer. After
packing up and stashing our packs on down the trail, everyone comes back
and "fluffs" up their camp site. If any of the veggies were tied back or
mashed flat, they are gently put back into place. If anything (rocks,
sticks, pine cones, etc.) was moved to make a tent area, it is carefully
replaced (into its original divot, if possible <g>).
The whole object is to put the highly used part of the site (cooking,
eating, socializing area) on the most durable ground and to spread
everything else out so that none of the fragile places get beat up much at
all. Our goal is to literally "leave no trace." The kids (and grown
men/women also!) can really get into the challenge of using a campsite so
lightly that a passerby couldn't tell the next morning that anyone had ever
Honest to goodness, I have seen middle-aged adults get so completely
carried away with "leaving no trace" that they sprinkled scarce water from
their canteens on their dry tent footprint...to make it look just like the
rain-damp ground along side! Extreme? Maybe...they were having huge fun
and they SURE had internalized the LNT message <VBG>.
"Stealth" camping is usually another name for pristine area camping. Since
most of us thru-hikers travel solo or in very small groups, it could be
fairly easy to set up a stealth site that minimizes our impacts. We gotta
remember, though, that ethical camping in pristine areas takes a fair
amount of skill and lots of willingness to do what it takes to keep our
impact to an absolute minimum.
First choice on a heavily used trail like the AT is always the many
impacted camping sites...the most obvious of which are the shelters <g>.
The shelters are classic examples of bombproof "sacrificial" legal
established sites. IMHO, the crowds on the AT have grown WELL beyond the
ability of the local ecosystems to cope with everyone trying to do pristine
camps. If we didn't have the shelters, we could all too easily wind up
with a single 2,000 mile long highly impacted camp site!
The next LNT principle is "Pack it in, Pack it out"
See you at "LNT 7- PiiPio"
- Charlie II AT (MEGA'93)
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