Outdoors

Meet the Columnist: Outdoor writer Kayla Heidenreich

Leaving no trace, wherever possible
March 2, 2022 at 5:10 a.m.
A prime backcountry campsite atop Winchester Mountain in the North Cascades.
A prime backcountry campsite atop Winchester Mountain in the North Cascades. (Photo courtesy of Kayla Heidenreich)

By KAYLA HEIDENREICH
CDN Contributor

Ah, how to introduce myself? Various ways: I’m a recent college graduate living paycheck to paycheck serving people beer, while also a free-loving individual who seeks adventure within everything I do. Some days I qualify as a confused kid floating through adult life; others I’m an avid outdoor protector who will put everything on the line for the people, things and land I care about. 

I hope all that authenticity will shine through these columns, starting with a core ethic that lies beneath all of it: Taking care to do no harm to the lands we cherish.

Leave No Trace (LNT) principles are one of those rare things most lovers of the “lawless” outdoors accept as laws. Many recreationists already know them, but if they’re new, let me help introduce you, in a way that incorporates my own successes and failures living up to them in the great outdoors.

LNT Principle Number 1: Plan Ahead and Prepare

Frostnip:

The longest backpacking trip I have done was a 3-week trip in the High Sierras in June. With almost half a year of preparation, my team and I planned down to the tee. Little did we know the one thing that slid past us happened to be the dictator of our whole trip: the weather. 

Fast-forward to day 16; I’m sitting in a 4-foot-deep snow cave, with my barefoot shoved into the moist skin of my friend Moose’s armpit. We had been stuck in a two-week-long blizzard and my left big toe was trying to fight off the impending doom of frostbite. With no knowledge of a severe winter storm hitting during our summertime trip, we had no winter gear and, in turn, we faced the wrath of mother nature.

LNT Principle Number 2: Walk and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Ticks:

On a multi-day rafting trip on the Wild and Scenic section of Oregon’s Rogue River, a long day of paddling ended with setting up for the night at a heavily used campsite overlooking the tied-up rafts below. I couldn’t help noticing the plush grassy field nearby.

I grabbed my belongings and sunk down into that soft field, where I slept like a baby. The next morning, I was greeted by gasps from the group, thanks to two ticks burrowed into my skin. My sleeping bag was infested. Lesson learned: Sleep where you are supposed to.

LNT Principle Number 3: Dispose of Waste Properly

Pick your trash wisely:

My first backpacking trip was under the scorching Australian sun, hiking the Great Ocean Road — with a somewhat extravagant take on five days’ worth of food. 

Five cans of SpaghettiOs, three cans of chili, a carton of eggs, and a loaf of bread later I was on my way. Picture the game of Tetris I played trying to squeeze these heavy, fragile and oddly shaped items into my slim backpack. As I came to realize on day two, I had made terrible food decisions. The heaviest thing in my backpack was all my accumulated trash. Squashed runny egg yolks lingered all five days.

Lesson: Proper waste disposal requires front-end planning. 

LNT Principle Number 4: Leave What you Find

Dogtooth Quartz:

Starting an ascent of Dogtooth Peak in the High Sierras, I pulled myself up onto a plateau, tucked beneath the final pitch to the summit. My jaw dropped. Thousands of crystals covered the ground, reflecting beams of sunlight all around us. My peers and I sat in awe overlooking the wilderness from our crystal bed.

Soon, someone broke the silence with an obvious question: Take a crystal or not? Our instructors, no strangers to Dogtooth Peak, told us almost triple the number of crystals that used to call this peak home. They’d been vanishing slowly. As I watched some of my peers slyly pocket a crystal, I squeezed the one in my hand, hoping it would whisper to me that I should take it home. I took a deep breath, soaking in the magic of that moment, and did the right thing: set my crystal back down for the next person to embrace.

LNT Principle Number 5: Minimize Campfire Impacts

Raw Hot Dogs:

This one is short, anticlimactic and a bit ironic. On a one-night backpacking trip, I planned dinner around roasting hot dogs over a fire. Arriving at our campsite, no-fire signs were everywhere. With raw hot dogs wilting in our backpacks, our stomachs moaned as we nibbled on nuts and our next day’s lunch. Check fire restrictions, or bring that backup stove and pan. Raw hot dogs suck.

LNT Principle Number 6: Respect Wildlife

Bear Box Pushups:

During a rock-climbing course, my instructor stood silently, his brow furrowed, making sure his disappointed gaze hit every one of our eyes.

“Who can tell me what’s wrong with this scene?”

No one wanted to speak. 

His sharp voice spit out, “You all have no respect!”

I peeked around our campsite. Bear canisters were left hanging open, dirty dishes left out, crackers lay lonesome with the dirt ... you get the point. 

Our professor explained: When a bear reaps the benefits of lazy campers multiple times, it is reported, and the bear will often be removed from its own home, or worse, killed. 

“Drop down and give me 100 pushups. NOW,” he instructed. “Every time you leave any campsite from here on out, you remember this moment, these pushups, and you do your part to save an animal's life.”

LNT Principle Number 7: Be Considerate of Other Visitors:

Boombox Blues:

My first time guiding a trip, I took 10 of my university’s freshmen out on a five-day backpack in the Desolation Wilderness. After the first day, we hunkered down in a popular area for many backpackers. As I start to cook 11 tacos on two small backpacking stoves, I notice a student pull out of his quaint backpack a speaker the size of his head.

I felt my face turn red as I watched him connect it to his smartphone and crank it to full volume. I could see the heads of other people in the area turning to look at us, the outrageous college kids partying in the peace of the backcountry. 

I am all for some tunes in the backcountry, but there is a limit, and if you know what dubstep music is, you know that is the cap.

Now, prior to leaving for a trip, I always explain what should be obvious: respect the peace of others.


Kayla Heidenreich is a CDN Outdoors Contributor: heidenreichmk@gmail.com
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