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Leave No Trace (or maybe it Doesn’t Matter…?)

A scenario, I imagine, familiar to all of us. A beautiful day in a beautiful place. The pleasant illusion of feeling that I was in a pristine landscape, the first to ever walk this way. And then, just as I reached the perfect viewpoint, I came across a circle of scorched earth and the blackened remains of someone’s campfire. I hate it when this happens, and it happens a lot. I could not fault the departed camper’s choice of site. Nor could I deny that a fire enhances an evening under the stars. My issue was the failure to leave no trace.
I do not intend to reopen the old and complicated campfire debate in this short article. I will say only that I personally often have campfires when I can do so in a safe way that will leave no trace, and when I posted my irritation about fire circles on social media (hashtag #LeaveNoTrace) I was surprised by the vehement disagreements of opinion that it caused. (For the record everyone on Twitter agreed with my condemnation, most people on Instagram did, but only about half on Facebook.)
So what annoys you most about the outdoors and the way people use it? Go on, have a good rant. (Let me know on Twitter – @al_humphreys – and I’ll compile a Top 10.) Bend someone’s ear! Let it all out!
Feel better now? No, you probably don’t, because you’ve said it a hundred times, to a hundred different people, and they all agree with you, but nothing ever changes. Right?
And here’s why: most people you hang out with in the hills, and surely all Trail readers, are decent folk who are savvy about the outdoors. We know that orange peel left on a summit will linger for years. We know to carry waterproofs and a map and know how to use our compass. We know that only braindead morons leave bags of dog poo hanging from tree branches.
So there is little point in me ranting to you right now. More positive is for me to suggest that we each take more responsibility to care for the hills.
The New Zealand rugby team, the All Blacks, talk about leaving the jersey in a better place than when they first were selected to wear it. You do not own the legendary jersey. You are merely privileged to wear it until the next generation comes along. Cherish it, care for it, improve it, pass it on.
It is the same with us. Many of us routinely pick up a little litter and shove it in our packs. This month I’d like to suggest we go further. The next time you go to the hills take a bin liner with you, and make the focus of your day SPECIFICALLY about making a difference. Tell everyone you meet what you are doing and why. Evangelise, educate, inspire. See who can collect the most junk, or tidy the most fire circles. Make it a game, make it a challenge. Make a difference. Preaching to the converted or moaning amongst mates is pointless. We need to take action and set an example.
Finally, one of my favourite times of year is on its way. Whether you soak them in vinegar, bake them rock hard in the oven, plant seedlings, ward off spiders, or simply roll them round and round in your hand, don’t miss out on the joys of conker season.

This piece originally appeared in Trail Magazine.

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