You probably are well aware you’re not supposed to throw your trash anywhere in the Swiss Alps on a hike. However, that’s not exactly all there is to it with such a crucial aspect of a backpacker or hiker’s credo – the “leave no trace” ethic.
Also known as LNT, leaving no trace involves leaving as little evidence as you could that you have passed through or visited an area. It entails leaving the place as exactly as you found it as much as possible, even to the point of avoiding leaving footsteps. More on that later.
The minimization of human impact on nature spaces is to help these areas preserve its ecosystem and natural balance. This way, you can look forward to visiting it again as it’s likely to be still there for a long time – that is if such ethics are observed by all trekkers.
There are 7 essential leave no trace principles involved:
Plan and prepare
No two places are the same, even if they’re all in the Swiss Alps. As such, no two areas have exactly the same customs, weather patterns, trek traffic, risks, and guidelines. That being said, know what those are far in advance and prepare accordingly. Plan the best route to follow that leaves the least change in the area and strategize your supplies so you don’t deal with a lot of waste.
Go on harder surfaces
As mentioned, avoid changing the surfaces of the trails significantly. To do that, you should hike on paths that are harder and more able to take you or your group’s impact. Examples are those that are already established and have gravelly or rocky surfaces. A path with a lot of dry grass or snow is also a thumbs up. Avoid making new paths, widening an existing one (you have to walk single file on a narrow path), or doing short-cuts (it disturbs the landscape) on your trek. Also, avoid making your own camp site – you’re supposed to find a suitable spot, not make one wherever you prefer.
Dispose your waste responsibly
Bring back whatever you brought along with you that you used on the hike. Or you can keep it with you until you stop by a village or hostel that can accommodate your trash disposal needs. If you need to respond to the call of nature (the kind that requires you to sit), dig a hole about 15-20 cms. deep 60 meters away from the trail, water source, or camp and do the deed. When you’re done, cover the hole and disguise it so it still looks like the rest of the ground.
Leave what you find behind
You’ve probably seen signs advising you this same thing – take pictures but leave _______ (insert name of item in area) behind. As much as possible, don’t even touch natural objects, as well as historical markers or cultural structures along the way – feel free to look and stare as much as you like but don’t touch. Also, don’t make new structures or add to the area.
Minimize campfire impact
When you’re camping overnight in chilly conditions, a campfire is a life-saver. However, see to it that the fires you make are small or just enough to enable you to do light cooking or provide a bit of illumination. If you use sticks you picked up (not cut down) in the area, see to it they’re all burned to ash, which means you should use just enough for the fire so you don’t end up having to burn them out for a long time. Make sure the fire is put out completely before you leave. When the ashes are cool, spread them so the area still looks close to its original state.
Respect flora and fauna you may see
It’s always awesome to see wildlife you don’t usually see in your day to day life. However, keep your enthusiasm down and avoid disturbing them by touching, approaching, or following them. You should also not feed them as this will change their behavior and may even put their safety at risk as your behavior may expose them to predators and such. Just observe them or take flash-free photos from a distance. If an animal seems to pose a safety risk to you, simply scare it away without harming it.
Show consideration to other visitors
During hiking season, you’re most likely not the only one (or group) trekking the trails. Observe courtesy on the road and camp some distance from other hikers. Also, avoid making loud noises or speaking in unnecessarily loud voices during your adventure – enjoy the sound of nature instead!
Have You Left No Trace on Your Last Hike?
Some leave no trace advocates would even contend that the color of the clothing and gear you use on your hikes is also part of the LNT ethic. It’s preferred that you be dressed in clothing colors that are subdued and of earth tones. Neon colors and other “unnatural” shades may have an impact on wildlife in the area as those hues aren’t native to the place.
With all that being said, have you observed all or just some of these leave no trace principles? Are you up to the challenge of observing LNT ethics on your next trek?