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By Lance Garland
We’ve all seen it. After a grueling hike we reach the summit and find that perfect spot for a lunch with a view. As we gaze off into the distance, reaping the benefits of the elevation we’ve climbed, a colorful flag attracts our eyes. Upon further inspection, it’s a candy wrapper caught on a branch, flapping in the wind. If you’re like me, this piece of trash frustrates you, and has a negative effect on your experience in the wild.
For years I’ve practiced the art of leaving no trace. When I climb mountains, I use blue bags instead of leaving my waste on glaciers that are melting. I do my best to pack everything out that I pack in. By not walking off established trails or creating fire pits outside of existing ones, I leave the landscape in the same way I found it. But we as a society are realizing that cleaning up after only ourselves is not enough.
On Mount Everest, Denali, and so many other famous mountains across the planet, the waste that people have left behind is becoming a health hazard. However, there is a solution. Individuals are hauling out the trash other people have left behind.
When we start cleaning up after ourselves, and cleaning up after others, we start to realize just how much trash we are accumulating. The National Parks have been documenting how much waste they produce every year, and it’s staggering. Recycling is a great alternative to the amount of trash we are putting into landfills, but the simple act of minimizing the amount of waste we produce as individuals might be the most effective way to tackle this problem.
So when you’re packing your ten essentials, safety gear, food, and water for your next outdoor adventure, make sure to also take stock of the amount of waste you’re packing along with you. Ask yourself if there are more efficient and waste-reducing options.
Next time you reach that awe-inspiring summit to eat your lunch in the midst of epic wilderness views, clean up your traces and take a few more steps to grab that candy wrapper before the wind takes it further into the backcountry. You can even make a game out of it: hiking treasure hunts. The kiddos will love it. And you just may find out that you’ll feel even more connected to the landscapes you traverse. Your view and the wild areas will be more pristine. And the next generation will thank you.
While Lance fights fire in Seattle, climbs the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, and sails the Salish Sea, he writes. Recent work has appeared in Outside Online, Cutbank, and The Stranger, which listed his writing on The Best American Journalism of 2018. Upcoming work will appear in Orion Magazine, along with their 2020 anthology, The Nature of Love. www.lancegarland.com