This past summer I worked seasonally for the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) as a member of the Johns Brook Lodge hut-crew. My duties at that illustrious establishment were hiking food in from the nearest road (about 3.5 miles out), cooking, lodge maintenance, and perhaps, most importantly, educating guests and thru-hikers on responsible backcountry ethics. Amazingly, not everyone who ventures to climb mountains knows the consequences of their presence in the backcountry.
There were a few instances over the summer when I would engage in a bit of casual conversation with some of my colleagues at ADK, who are full-time employees. We would discuss who we thought were the violators of “Leave No Trace” ethics. On one such occasion, someone brought up college groups. I piped up and said, “Well, SLU has this tradition where…” and was promptly interrupted by a superior, we’ll call him Ralph, who said, “Oh we know ALL about Peak Weekend.” With a slight eye roll, it was clear that he did not approve of the tradition. His reasoning…he believes it promotes overuse of wilderness areas and has detrimental affects on sensitive ecosystems. Ralph cited the following as reasons he did not approve of such events. I should note here that these are unfortunate happenings, which noticeably increase on weekends with large college trips.
-Trails are more crowded on college weekends, leading to difficulties at trailheads.
-First-time hikers often contribute to trail widening unknowingly.
-Some participants don’t understand how to properly dispose of human waste in the backcountry, a health and safety concern.
-Group size on such weekends often exceeds the legal limit (for day use the maximum is 15 people, for overnight it is eight.)
-Noise levels tend to increase when a bunch of college kids descend (or ascend?) on the High Peaks.
-Unprepared hikers put a strain on DEC Forest Rangers.
I love that New York has around 9000 square miles of Adirondack Park for people to explore and enjoy, but I also believe that people who recreate in these natural areas must have knowledge of how to do so respectfully and responsibly. I propose that we change Ralph’s opinion of SLU and the OC. All it would require is that people who participate in Peak weekend follow the principles of “Leave No Trace.” Infractions like pooping in the middle of trails, being loud and obnoxious, walking around muddy spots, and hiking in large groups can easily be avoided. Avoiding these unfortunate practices create a more enjoyable outdoor experience for everyone, healthier wilderness areas, and less deterioration of trails.
You may be reading this thinking it is a hit piece on the O.C. and Peak Weekend. On the contrary, I simply think we should do our best to improve everyone’s outdoor experience. Change Ralph’s opinion, and enjoy the outdoors while doing so. Happy trails!