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[pct-l] LNT 13- Flic a Bic

Hello All -

This posting wraps up my discussion on the LNT Principle:

              Minimize Use and Impact of Fire

The very notion of giving up our cherished campfires is always a
gut-grabber <g>.

I would guess that from it's "discovery" on, fire has always been deeply
symbolic to us humans...and a LOT of us do get a double-dose of fire-use in
our important heritage from our "pioneering" and native American ancestors.
It's HARD to escape the fact that (for most of us) belief in the utility
of (and a fascination with) fire seems to come "built-in"!

I truly love sitting at a campfire....good friends and I have solved the
majority of the worlds problems around some of the better ones <VBG>.  I
believe strongly in the worth of a youth organization that makes excellent
use of social and ceremonial campfires to help accomplish its educational
aims.  I have no intention of giving my campfires up...but, I HAVE decided
that I might need to do a LOT better job of deciding where and when I make

I wish that I could somehow deny that the problems listed in the "dark side
of Smokey" are true.  Even more, I wish that they were not getting worse
(in WAY too many places!) at an alarmingly high rate!  I cut out some text
that I had here (about a foot and a half <g>) because a rereading convinced
me that I was probably pounding a bit too hard on how pervasive campfire
damage is becoming (especially along such a national treasure as a National
Scenic Trail!).

Instead of reading my deep concerns...we can go take a hike!  Let's do a
few weeks on some of the better-protected stretches of the AT in AMCland or
(especially!) in Connecticut (where fires were banned when I came thru in
'93...I HOPE they still are!).  Then we can do a couple of weeks on the AT
almost anywhere else. We can play detective and use our eyes...and our
noses...a LOT...and then put our good noggins to work.  THEN...I can still
dig out the lost 18" of text if we still need to debate how pervasive
campfire damage is becoming <VBG>.

I do get gloomy at times, but I haven't given up yet!  I still believe that
we CAN do away with a LOT of the damage that campfire use brings to the
backcountry (and certainly to heavily used trails like the AT!) if we just
get a tad more careful about how, when, and where we make them.

For me, first choice is ALWAYS to try HARD to find a way to have an
enjoyable and safe outing (that meets all our personal needs) without ever
building a fire!  It ain't always easy...but it IS always worth a good try

If we feel that we simply must have a fire, then "first choice" easily
morphs into building it in an established fire-pit where the damage has
already been done.  We can use some of the wood-gathering techniques
discussed below to help reduce our impacts to the surrounding area.  We
can...yes, even us thru-hikers...take the time to remove our ashes from the
fire-pit and to distribute them widely as we go miles on down the trail.
Remembering the other LNT Principles can help us keep down some of the
remaining damages that are WAY too easy to unthinkingly do as we enjoy our

If there is no hi-impact fire-pit handy, then we might want to do a bit of
soul-searching.  Maybe we can just sniff a charcoal nubbin saved from our
last fire...and the campfire fit might go away <VBG>.  If we can convince
ourselves that the local ecosystem CAN support the incremental damage done
by our fire, AND we are willing to take the time to use some important
skills, then we might want to try one of the following minimum-impact fire

The easiest for us backpackers, in the long run, is the "mound" fire.  We
grab something flat (garbage bag, Scoutmaster's shirt, etc....anything
about 3' x 3' or so) that will hold dirt and smooth it out on the ground
where we want to build our campfire.  We turn our sleeping-bag stuff sack
inside-out (so the inside won't get dirty) and go off to find some place
where we can use our cathole trowel to fill it up with relatively dry
mineral soil.  Under the root mass of a blown-over tree or a dry
sand/gravel bar are typical of the good places to get mineral soil (that
sterile soil that has no combustible organic material in it).

We dump the pile of mineral soil onto the middle of that flat "something"
laid down earlier.  We pat it into a shape kinda like an upside-down ice
cream cone with the pointy end cut off a little ways up from the big end.
The top surface of the remaining "truncated cone" will be where the fire is
built, so we dish it slightly to keep the coals from rolling over the side.

A typical mound fire might be about 2' in diameter at the base, about 4-6"
high, and a bit less than 2' in diameter at the top (the steepness of the
sides is determined greatly by how cohesive the dirt will stay when it gets
hot).  If we expect to use the fire for more than a quick one-pot meal
(want to do some baking, etc.), then it might pay us to get some more dirt
and make the fire platform a couple inches higher (to make SURE that the
heat doesn't make it all the way thru the dirt to the surface it is sitting

Now it is time to gather wood!  We need to check how much our stomach is
growling...if we can stand it, we need to set enough time aside to take a
nice pre-dinner walk thru the woods <g>.  Taking a 10-15 minute hike as we
gather wood...making a big loop away from the camp area and picking up just
a little here and a little there...helps us keep from stripping any one
area of so many organics that the ecosystem can't self-repair.  If we pick
up branches no bigger than we can break with our hands  (dead and down
only...no fair stripping branches off the trees or pushing dead trees
over), we are likely to be taking only easily-replaceable "seasonal" wood
AND we get to leave the saw/axe at home!

It's easy to pick up and carry whole branches during our gathering walk and
when we come back we can drop them near the fire location.  We can break
off only what wood we need to make and maintain the fire...and then, when
finished, we can toss the unbroken (still natural) left-over branches back
out into the woods.  If we toss them into the nearby woods, we might be
helping to replace a little of the organic materials that less-thoughtful
campers have stripped away to feed their fires (stave off that desert for
another day! <g>).  If we leave the branches next to the fire area (or make
a "courtesy" wood pile), then we are setting up a "monkey see, monkey do"
situation that, woefully often, quickly leads to an unwanted hi-impact fire

A "twiggy" fire does a much better job at cooking than we might think at
first.  We are cooking mostly with the flame, not with the coals, so we DO
get to play a bit more at stoking the fire while we cook up that one-pot
meal...OR bake that pizza.  The pot quickly gets black with soot...I never
wash the outside of mine (better absorption of heat!) and just store it in
a lite nylon stuff sack (which I wash every month or so on a long
hike...whether it needs it or not <g>).

If we let the twigs burn down to a fine ash, we are left with almost no
disposal problem with the fire "remains"...we simply pick up our flat
"something" and carry dirt and ashes back to the hole where we got the
mineral soil.  Dump it all back in, smoosh the local duff or nearby surface
soil around a bit, and the remains of our fire are history.  Back where we
had our campfire, we simply need to "fluff" up any veggies we might have
mashed...there will be no burn scars, no soot stains, and no sterilized
soil to contend with!

The same fire-use technique works well with a "fire-pan"...a shallow metal
pan that can be placed on local rock "legs" and which serves the same
function as the mound.  Horsepackers, canoeists, and rafters are probably a
lot more interested than hikers in making this particular
weight/convenience tradeoff <g>.

It's not hard at all to significantly reduce the damages that we could do
with our campfires. The above techniques CAN help us reduce the actual
damage we do...often getting us on the good side of that threshold of
"ecosystem self-recovery" we always look for.  The somewhat shop-worn
observation: "big work to build big fire - sit way back...small work to
build small fire - sit close" can help us still meet our personal fireside
needs without doing TOO much damage to our favorite backcountry camping

Next up is "Plan Ahead and Prepare"

...see you at "LNT 14-Planning Planning"

- Charlie II  AT (MEGA'93)
             PCT (Mex@Can'95)

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