Bushwhacking Guideline for Low Impact

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Stick to new routes and keep your party small for the lowest impact.
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“The Green Guide to Low-Impact Hiking and Camping” by Laura and Guy Waterman, encourages all campers and hikers to follow a few simple steps to reduce their impact on the earth.

The Green Guide to Low-Impact Hiking and Camping (The Countryman Press, 2016), by Laura and Guy Waterman is a necessary tool for any outdoorsman or woman. Laura and Guy Waterman teach readers about the value that a few small contributions can have on the land. With their suggestions, they also teach readers how to achieve each task. The following excerpt is located in Case Study 1: Low-Impact Bushwhacking.

Toward a Bushwhacker’s Code of Conduct

Before too much damage is done to all these nice little peaks, there is need for a code of conduct to be more widely adopted for off-trail travel. We’ve already touched on many points:

1. Do not leave litter of any kind. This stricture especially applies to the strong temptation to mark the route with bits of plastic tape. Yes, that makes it easier for the next party to reach the top or to make a return trip in winter. But isn’t difficulty and challenge and mystery supposed to be part of the fun? No litter means no litter.

2. When selecting an itinerary, think about the kind of terrain it traverses. Some microenvironments can stand a small amount of traffic without damage, others are frightfully vulnerable. If you find yourself in a delicate sphagnum bog, redirect your course if you can; and certainly reconsider any plans you may have had to bring a party of friends that way next month.

3. Keep your party small. Two or three can go up a trackless slope more or less unnoticed. It is highly doubtful whether a party of 15 or 20 could ever fail to leave a tragic swath of destruction in its wake. NOLS’s low-impact instructions advocate a maximum party of four to six on bushwhacks.

4. Do not build cairns to denote turns in the route, or even on the summit. Leave the woods as fresh-looking as you found them.

5. Don’t break branches needlessly, and don’t break any live branches if you can possibly help it.

6. Avoid stepping on especially fragile soils, mosses, or unstable rocky surfaces—or at least minimize such activities.

7. Where a fragile area must be crossed, everyone spread out and cross carefully in different places. . .

8. . . . unless a single worn track has already been established; in which case, everyone stick to that track.

9. Where it’s an option, rock-hop along a stream bed, stepping where the high water keeps vegetation from growing anyway.

10. If returning a second time to an unmarked area, choose a slightly different route.

11. If you begin to see the first signs of a worn track, not yet clearly established, try to avoid contributing to any further wear yourself. Go a different way. Throw a dead branch or two to cover the evidence of others’ thoughtlessness.

12. If your objective is to get off the beaten track, then for heaven’s sake don’t beat your own track. It makes no sense. Every time we come across a plainly marked track off the regular trail, our principal reaction is puzzlement. Here went someone who valued getting away from the trails of others; why on earth would such a person then make his own track? So, at the very least, never, never commit the arrogance of making a new trail in a presently wild place.

13. Use restraint in propagating news about your route. Let others find their own way. Don’t spoil their adventure, entirely apart from dispersing environmental impact.

14. Don’t be overly preoccupied with this list of guidelines or any other formal itemized list. Rather, think hard about the underlying objective: to leave the wild land inviolate, or at least to minimize human impact. Understanding the problem in its general terms will be a far better guide to conduct than any itemized list of rules.

15. While you’re at it, come up with a better name for all this other than bushwhacking. Can anyone suggest a catchy alternative with the right message?

More from The Green Guide to Low-Impact Hiking and Camping

Try Hammock Camping in Backwoods for Low Impact
Be a Courteous Camper: Try Low Impact Camping and Hiking 


 Reprinted with permission from The Green Guide to Low-Impact Hiking and Camping by Laura and Guy Waterman and Published by The Countryman Press, 2016.