Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Low-Impact Mountaineering

A day-climb near Tingri, Tibet. Cho Oyu and Shisha behind me.2005.

“LNT” or Leave No Trace are old, known set of principles in conserving our mountain and nature playground.  More popular quote of ‘Take nothing but pictures, Leave nothing but footprints, Kill nothing but time” – offered nice and summarized version of LNT’s intent.

But as we walk thru established paths, blaze a new trail, or climb our regular mountain – we still somehow impact our environment – especially mountains with rich flora and fauna.  Glaciated mountains probably have higher tolerance to humans, but as ‘tropicanos’, every visit we make in our supposedly green and rich mountains will inadvertently leave an eco-mark.  Simply leaving your poo behind, or throwing biodegradable food scraps, or stepping on rich undergrowth – already contribute  a direct impact on nature.  Repeated practice increases the impact, even exponentially when near or past the ‘tipping’ (or tolerance) point.

So the question is  - how to reduce if not near-eliminate our eco signature?

Here are some of my own ideas and/or practices:
1.      “The lesser the better”.  I have gone with groups of hundreds when I joined mountaineering federation trips.  Not knowing ‘tourism carrying capacity’ concept back then (which is still being argued by some today).  This concept is easy to understand.  If you have a house built for 5 people (say - 1 toilet, 5 beds, 1 kitchen, 5 chairs), 3 people will have big room, better comfort and less impact/damage to the house.  Try putting 50 people in that house.  Mountains or camping grounds are the same. The only gray area for some people is how to compute the maximum number.  We don’t need an exact number, just look at the established camp size (don’t expand it), the after-walk-effect on trails,  the number of toilet holes or used tissues around, etc. When in doubt – choose less.
2.      Camping vs. Day hike. In my observation, and depends on the group – camping contributes 80 to even 90% of eco-impact.  Think camp site itself (cut trees where grass grows which slowly occupy tree areas), the trash (even biodegradable attracts pests or offer ‘wrong food’ to wildlife, human waste (which is toxic unless you only eat kamote everyday), the noise (big groups tend to party loudly) and its impact to wildlife, expansion or deepening of trails (which becomes erosion canals during rainy days – think Maculot), and other things.  Quick and light walk without camping is the best alternative to greatly minimize environmental impact.  May be not always, but a good mix to one’s mountaineering lifestyle.

3.      If you’ll camp, lessen its impact.  Less tents (share them), less cooking and left-over, bring down trash (all including bio-trash if possible especially for critical areas like Pulag), although not popular – a self-treating poo bag in a biodegradable ‘plastic’ could be an option.  Not yet popular but we can DIY a self-treating poo bag using neutralizing powder such as this. Locally sourced lime (apog) may also work.
4.      On trail walk, the fitter and experienced (and mindful) you are, the less the impact.  Really? Observe your friends, is there someone holding on to every bit of shrub, grass, roots, even pulling down a whole banana tree to help him/herself climb up/go down, or at least avoid slippage? Some do a carabao act –dragging their butt, pack, etc. on the trail making it wide and deep.  Tip: use trekking pole or walking stick vs. holding-and-breaking small branches along the trail.  

5.      Off the beaten path.  Maybe not always, but it’s good to experiment new mountains, or new routes once in a while.  Overly visited mountains or places (ex. Maculot, Famy) ensured demise of the place. 
6.      Plant every climb?  If the place allows and needs it, why not.  If there is a DENR nursery near the area, it would be good to pass by and get 1 or 2 seedlings.   

No comments: