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mrkstvns

Outdoor Ethics for Winter Activities

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Winter opens up a wealth of outdoor activities for the adventurous outdoorsman. Snowshoeing, cross country skiing, ice fishing, and cold weather camping are all great opportunities to test our outdoor skill.  They also challenge us to think about how we can stay true to our outdoor ethics while surviving and thriving in cold conditions.

For each of the 7 Leave No Trace principles, I've gathered a few thoughts about special challenges that winter conditions present and some ideas for how scouts and scouters can integrate Leave No Trace into their winter activities.  I'd love to hear more ideas and thoughts!

1. PLAN AHEAD AND PREPARE
Winter weather can quickly change for the worse. Be prepared for it. Check local weather forecasts before you go and make sure that clothing and sleeping bags are going to be warm enough to handle the lowest expected temperature range. Pack an extra fleece blanket too, and remember to bring a sleeping pad.

2. TRAVEL AND CAMP ON DURABLE SURFACES
Areas with melting ice or snowpack can be particularly vulnerable to impacts from hikers straying off the trail and forming new cutbacks or parallel tracks. Wear appropriate boots and walk down the middle of the established trail even if it's wet or muddy.

In snow-covered areas, it's best to travel or camp in deeper snow where impacts on underlying vegetation are minimized.  Snow and ice can be generally regarded as a "durable surface"  --- it's okay to walk or camp in a snow-covered field. Don't try to clear away snow to make an area to setup a tent:  just setup the tent on top of the snow (it's softer than the ground anyway). 

3. DISPOSE OF WASTE PROPERLY
Pack it out is the way to go during the winter. 

Do not bury any waste under snow. 

If you build snow shelters, break them down before you leave.

6. RESPECT WILDLIFE
Remember that winter is a vulnerable time for many species. Be particularly careful to avoid damaging resources that might be needed for food, water, or shelter. 

7. BE CONSIDERATE OF OTHER VISITORS
Crowds are less likely to be a problem in winter than summer, but there's less vegetation to hide your activities and sounds tend to travel further in the winter.  Be aware of it.

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As you probably noticed, I skipped a couple LNT guidelines. That's because those seem to apply to winter camping or hiking pretty much the same as they would to summer camping or hiking.  Of course, you might think of a wrinkle I overlooked.  If so, shout it out!

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"Packing out personal waste is not a new concept. Climbers on Mt. Rainier started using "blue bags" in the early 1980s, and mandatory carry-everything-out programs later spread to popular peaks like Shasta and Denali, as well as to environmentally sensitive Utah canyons like Buckskin Gulch and the Virgin River Narrows. But the addition of Mt. Whitney to that list signals a new willingness by land managers to use this tactic on trails where backcountry toilets are impractical to build, and the routes are too trafficked or rocky to absorb the impact of numerous cat holes...."

https://www.backpacker.com/trips/packing-out-waste-you-can-take-it-with-you

 

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Nope. Not a new concept....but it might be a radical idea for scouters accustomed to warm weather camping in state parks with flush toilets and other luxuries.

"Pack it out" is definitely the rule among climbers....and among whitewater rafters too where nobody really wants to go overboard in a river you've been dumping waste in.

For weekend activities, I can "pack it out" using zip-loc plastic bags.  Outdoor stores smell profits in human waste, so they offer lots of stuff you can buy, like disposal bottles, deodorizers, enzymes to break down waste, etc.  REI sells a bunch of things with names like Biffy-Bag, Pocket Loo, etc.  IMHO, a regular Zip-Loc works fine and costs far less.  By the way, getting back to the winter-specific theme, enzymes don't break down bio-matter as quickly in cold weather as they do in warm weather. Just sayin'....

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Snow shelters are "human impact" that reduces the experience for others.  Otherwise, Spring solves that problem - stacked up H²O - nicely where there is Spring weather.

In the 1950s and 60s my old troop was thought eccentric for practicing "Pack it in; pack it out." The BSA orthodoxy was "burn bash, and bury."  In the arid southwest, any child could plainly see BBB did't work.  We doubted it worked in New jersey, where the rules were promulgated at the time.  Bags were cotton or waxed paper.

And we used single burner gasoline stoves (WW II surplus "squad stoves"), which also drew scorn from some: "Real Scouts use open fires."  When I got back in in 1981, BSA expressly discouraged "chemical stoves."  As late as 1987, a neighboring council prohibited all "liquid fuel appliances" at its two camp properties. (They are still big on long lists of "NOs.")

Edited by TAHAWK

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22 hours ago, TAHAWK said:

Snow shelters are "human impact" that reduces the experience for others.  Otherwise, Spring solves that problem - stacked up H²O - nicely where there is Spring weather.

I would hope that most scouts on a winter camping trip would dismantle their snow shelters when breaking camp.  Isn't this SOP for your guys?

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3 hours ago, mrkstvns said:

I would hope that most scouts on a winter camping trip would dismantle their snow shelters when breaking camp.  Isn't this SOP for your guys?

We ask the scouts to knock down the roofs so nobody gets hurt playing on the snow and it caving in. They get more and more solid so it's difficult to completely knock it down after a day.

And think about it. We walk into an area with 3' of pristine snow and create tracks and caves and tent slots all over the place. There's no way we can leave it the way it was.

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4 hours ago, mrkstvns said:

I would hope that most scouts on a winter camping trip would dismantle their snow shelters when breaking camp.  Isn't this SOP for your guys?

 

Yes. for the reason given, not because it's "waste."  

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23 minutes ago, MattR said:

We ask the scouts to knock down the roofs so nobody gets hurt playing on the snow and it caving in. They get more and more solid so it's difficult to completely knock it down after a day.

And think about it. We walk into an area with 3' of pristine snow and create tracks and caves and tent slots all over the place. There's no way we can leave it the way it was.

"Leave no trace" is an aspiration.  Nothing wrong with aspirations.

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9 minutes ago, TAHAWK said:

Nothing wrong with aspirations.

The aspiration is no yellow snow.

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BSA: " When ready to leave, properly take down the snow structure."  

 

PROGRAM FEATURES FOR TROOPS, TEAMS, AND CREWS: Vol 3, A Guide to Program Planning, BSA (2016)

Many useful pages but not a single mention of a "patrol," the context, for Scouting, BSA continues to say in the Scouitmaster Training syllabus, 

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11 minutes ago, MattR said:

The aspiration is no yellow snow.


I'll tell the next bear I run into.  😉

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13 hours ago, MattR said:

And think about it. We walk into an area with 3' of pristine snow and create tracks and caves and tent slots all over the place. There's no way we can leave it the way it was.

Nor should you even worry about doing so.  That would be missing the point (rely on the "authority of the resource").

LNT practitioners generally regard snow as a "durable surface".

Build those snow shelters! Stomp down a tent platform for the night!  It's all good because the next snowfall is going to cover up your traces and when things thaw out, not a trace remains.

The only reason to worry about knocking down snow structures is to minimize the aesthetic changes, purely as a courtesy to anyone else who might be passing through. 

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