How can planning help?
An obvious question is “How can planning ahead and good preparation be associated with outdoor ethics?” The combination of unexpected conditions and poor planning can have a deleterious effect on people and cause the degradation of backcountry resources.
One simple example: Rain happens (especially thunderstorms). We were out on a trail once in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, still about 5 km from the car, when a storm blew in and it started to really come down. We put on rain gear and continued, but within minutes, ran into a group of underprepared hikers.They had no rain gear (they were soaked), and they wearing just shorts with no extra layers (they were cold).
In an effort to try to remedy the problem, they had ripped a pile of branches off some trees, tried to build a makeshift lean-to, which wasn’t working as a rain shelter at all (we find a lot of lean-tos in the woods, like the one pictured above right). They made a fire ring out of rocks, and were in the process of trying to light a fire inside the lean-to. The wet, green branches wouldn’t light, (thank goodness, or they would have set the lean-to on fire and probably the whole forest, too). When the rain subsided, there was now a total mess in the forest right on the trail, of ripped down branches and damaged trees, plus a rock ring. The funny part was, had they done their proper prep work, or known the area, or even known what to do in this case, there was lots of ready, dry shelter areas less than 100 m away against some rock bands.
Another personal example where the bad planning was ours: we were canoeing with a group from Banff to Canmore, starting at Bow Falls (the start’s pictured at right), and not 15 minutes after leaving Bow Falls, sweepers (downed trees in the river) in a section of the river (we later found was “notorious”) capsized all but 3 of our 10 boats. As an upright boat (that still had our gear), we rescued half a dozen people (and a dog) and got them to shore. We had extra layers and warm stuff, and started to get everyone warmed up.
Not being that clear on exactly where we were, someone built a small fire to start drying people out. Turns out we were just ~200 m from the edge of the Golf Course, but no one knew. An hour later, the Banff Park Wardens came by on a jet boat and encouraged us to put the fire out (and destroy any evidence it was there). Folks in our party had to come back a few days later and remove 2 canoes from the river that were wrapped around trees, becoming both hazards and permanent fixtures on the landscape.
Had we understood the route and the hazards better, rather than relying on only the party’s lead boat to know, avoiding the hazards or even dealing with the dumped boats would have looked a LOT different. “Bad planning” on our group’s part created a rescue situation even though we were prepared to self-rescue, and prevented us from finding easy ways out.
Planning for Safety vs Planning for LNT
We have a series of pages dedicated to outdoor safety in K-Country, written in cooperation with Kananaskis Mountain Rescue. The first focuses on trip planning. The Leave No Trace principles on preparedness are not focused so much on safety, as the impact that bad planning can have on backcountry resources. Those of you who attended our February 2019 Speaker Series talk from Matt Muller of Kananaskis Mountain Rescue heard about how rock rescues can require drilling and installing bolts on un-bolted routes – permanent markers on the landscape.
Whether it’s building emergency shelters, or being ill-equipped for what our unforgiving mountains can throw at you, there’s a real impact on the ground from unpreparedness. It’s readily avoidable, and when done right, leaves the wilderness ready for the next people to see it in its original state.
One area the Leave No Trace program focuses on in particular is meal planning. From the use of stoves instead of fires, to minimizing food packaging, to packing out what you pack in, even day hikers can Leave No Trace when they eat by just a bit of better planning.
For instance, just because it’s biodegradable, doesn’t mean it should be left behind. Apple cores, orange peels, and sunflower seed or pistachio hulls take at least 6 months and sometimes years to decompose, aren’t attractive on the landscape, and create habituation behaviours in critters like ground squirrels (who bite and carry pests).
In backpacking, planning meals limits your impact, and one-pot meals is the best way to go. Not only do they minimize pots and pans to carry, everything can be made on one stove (instead of a campfire), and they limit the number of utensils needed, as often you can eat with the ones you cook with.
We have found bits of every single type of granola/energy bar wrapper in K-Country, too. One suggestion Leave No Trace Canada has is to remove all packaging (where practical) and repackage EVERYTHING in re-sealable, reusable containers before leaving home. Once empty, put the empty bags or containers inside each other and carry them out. A simple, compact solution to the waste problem.
Planning for pets
Even dog waste merits planning. Carrying the waste bags is one thing; how do you plan on taking them out? A Ziploc bag that can take all the poop bags safely and without any mess is an outstanding solution; leaving them on the side of the trail “to pick up on the trip back” is suboptimal at best.
Minimizing landscape impacts by planning
Good planning involves knowing your route. When you know where you are going, most (but not all) rock cairns, unofficial tree blazes and flagging tape become unnecessary; creating new ones is always superfluous.
We have no doubt that anyone who has spent time in K-Country has found cairns in the strangest of places that don’t add any value whatsoever to route finding. The 6′ tall tower on Red Ridge pictured at right is just one example of an unnecessary cairn that is clearly not “leaving no trace” and offering no navigation value. Adding new cairns because “you” think the next person will need them suggests a lack of planning on your part, given the likely thousands of folks who have been there before you and found their way without them.
Good planning results in minimizing impact on the landscape, whether through reduction of your harm, or reduction of the risk that you’ll need help or run into trouble. We certainly can’t plan for every contingency, and can’t carry everything we need for every potential risk every day. But a good plan can take us a long way, and nature (and the next folks along the trail) will thank us for it.
- Plan and be prepared for challenges you could face
- Know your route, no matter how you are travelling
- Plan your meals to minimize waste and cooking impacts
- Leave nothing behind; plan to carry things out you carried in
- People following you don’t need route-finding help. Don’t leave behind new flagging, cairns, or arrows on the ground.