Surface Durability – The concept of durability is an important one for back country travelers to understand. Natural surfaces respond differently to backcountry travel. Durability refers to the ability of surfaces to withstand wear or remain in a stable condition. The effect of travel across ice and snow is temporary, making snow and ice a good choice for travel assuming good safety precautions are followed and the snow layer is of sufficient depth to prevent vegetation damage. Avoid thin snow where you might break through to the soft ground beneath.
Travel on Durable Surfaces – The goal of back country travel is to move through the back country while avoiding damage to the land. Land management agencies typically construct trails in back country areas to provide identifiable routes that concentrate foot traffic. The constructed trails are themselves an impact on the land; however, they are a necessary response to the fact that people travel in the back country. Concentrating travel on trails reduces the likelihood that multiple routes will develop and scar the landscape. It is better to have one well-designed route than many poorly chosen paths. Trail use is recommended whenever possible.
Considerations: Encourage everyone to stay within the width of the trail and not short cut trail switchbacks (trail zigzags that climb hill sides). Avoid traveling close to tree limbs and brush as when these are frozen, they are fragile and can be easily broken. Travelers should provide space for other hikers if taking breaks along the trail. The principles of off-trail travel should be practiced if the decision is made to move off-trail for breaks. Hikers in the same group should periodically stop to rest and talk. Avoid shouting to communicate while hiking as loud noises usually are not welcome in natural areas.
Crampons may be helpful on icy trails, but they damage rock and are quickly worn down from rock. Be prepared to take them on and off as needed or do without.
Camping on Durable Surfaces – Selecting an appropriate campsite is perhaps the most important aspect of low-impact back country use. It requires the use of judgment and information and often involves making trade-offs between minimizing ecological and social impacts. A decision about where to camp should be based on information about the level and type of use in the area, the fragility of vegetation and soil, the likelihood of wildlife disturbance, an assessment of previous impacts, and your potential to cause or avoid impact. Winter camping allows camping in remote areas, see few visitors, and have no obvious impacts. In setting up camp, disperse tents, cooking areas and storage of backpacks on durable snow sites. Use removable tent anchors, such as ice axes, ice screws, and poles rather than moving rocks or tieing to trees.
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