Last week I set out to add another piece to my outdoor-chick toolbox. Having secured my Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification last year and renewed my Wilderness First Aid certification in January, I had nothing else on my radar. But when my dear, insane soul-sister, Karan of E-Corps, told me in no uncertain terms I needed to join her for a Leave No Trace Trainer course, I didn’t object.
If you’re not familiar with them, these are the guiding principles of Leave No Trace:
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of other visitors
Before setting out to our training location at Neels Gap on the Appalachian Trail in North Georgia, we each picked one of the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace to research in-depth and present to the class. I chose Respect Wildlife and dove into how to present the topic in a new way. I struggled for a bit until I went to where I do my best thinking… the trails. It was there my idea hit me and gelled into a working plan. More on that in a bit.
Adventures in preparation
As excited as I was about the class, I hadn’t been on an overnight backpack in a very long time and resurrecting those packing skills from deep in my memory was a daunting task. These days, I can pack for a 10,000-mile camping road-trip in my sleep but it took a great amount of effort through no-longer-familiar decisions to get myself ready for a backpacking adventure.
On top of hauling out long-unused gear, I checked the weather and realized we were in for a miserable time. The challenge of backpacking for the first time in ages was going to be compounded by dreary, wet, bone-chilling cold and the need to have everything completely waterproof. After a multitude of mini-crises about which pack to use, remembering how to pack, what food to bring, how to get my weight down, how to keep everything dry, and whether or not to haul my massive camera, I managed to get my act together and to class.
Class began at a cabin near Neels Gap where we met the rest of our classmates and our leaders, Tom and Alex. Instructor Tom, got us started with some basics about the Leave No Trace Principles then moved on to some activities to get us thinking and discussing the basis for the principles and the overlap between them. Leave No Trace volunteer and AT uber-hiker, Alex, gave us some practical tips for practicing LNT ourselves as well as how to share the principles when we encounter others who clearly aren’t familiar with them.
Under better meteorological circumstances, Tom would have led us out for a longer hike and more field study. That would have extended out miserable weather exposure though, so he cut us some slack and we lingered in the warmth and dryness of the cabin for most of the morning. So that’s where my buddies, Karan and Hollis, and I improvised to give our presentations.
In an effort to avoid straight lecture and regurgitation, my lightbulb moment on the trail a few days earlier involved creating a role-playing scenario for my Respect Wildlife topic. This was a big gamble since I had no idea if my classmates would embrace becoming bears and chipmunks. Before we got started I handed everyone a card with their animal persona and scenario… everything from a team of chipmunk food-stealing con-artists to bears who liked to play bear-bag pinata.
I knew Karan and Hollis would deliver so I had them start my “counseling” session for wayward forest critters who’ve had run-ins with humans. They set the tone beautifully and I had to stifle my laughter as Karan impersonated a chipmunk with a penchant for human food. With that, the rest of the class followed suit in putting themselves in wildlife’s shoes so-to-speak.
In the field
With half of our class presentations given in the cabin, we set out to the field for the remainder of our training. In the soaking rain, the wet trail provided the opportunity to consider best path choices in terms of traveling on durable surfaces. For the most part though, we simply trudged through the chilling fog and rain to our camp at Bull Gap.
Once there, we set up camp with some guidance on best and worst places to pitch tents and how to set up camp so as not to be inconsiderate to other hikers. Fortunately the rain had stopped temporarily so we only had to contend with dripping from trees as we set up camp. And after some time to settle in, we got back to the business at hand of learning how to teach and practice Leave No Trace on the trail… albeit a foggy, sopping wet, miserably cold one.
It was here that we covered the subjects of proper waste disposal, minimizing campfire impacts, the ins-and-outs of hanging bear bags, and how to be considerate of other visitors.
In a nutshell…
At a minimum, taking a Leave No Trace Awareness class is important for anyone who pursues outdoor wilderness activities. Newbies and experienced outdoor-folk alike can learn a lot. It benefits you, the people around you, and our outdoor playgrounds by minimizing our impact and making us more thoughtful about how we use and inhabit our natural areas.
So now that I’ve added another notch in my outdoor-chick belt, the big question is would I recommend the Trainer course to others? Absolutely. I’m obviously no stranger to outdoor pursuits and I’ve always used the Leave No Trace ethic in my adventures, but I still learned a lot from taking the Trainer course and I’m looking forward to taking that information out to spread the word about Leave No Trace through Awareness classes.