Leave No Trace Seven Principles

The Leave No Trace Seven Principles are a well established code of outdoor conservation ethics. Since the 1970s’ shift from pounding pitons to “clean climbing“, leaving no trace on the rock has been at the core of traditional climbing ethics. Yet as climbing becomes more popular and more climbers venture into fragile cliff-side and alpine environments, we need to take better care of the beautiful landscapes where we climb. The following Seven Principles can go a long way toward mitigating the environmental impacts of climbing in Wyoming and elsewhere.

1) Plan ahead and prepare

People who don’t know what they’re doing, where they’re going, or how to be safe can have a huge impact.  Bailing out the under-prepared requires motorized equipment, rescuers who put themselves in danger, and large amounts of money. But even in non-emergency situations, poor planning can result in people getting off trail, causing erosion, or stepping on a rare plant species. Or, as is happening more and more in Ten Sleep Canyon, new climbers show up and go where all the other climbers are going, which results in overflowing parking lots and crowded crags. When this happens, locals and land managers have less reason to tolerate us climbers. It’s not a stretch to say the future of climbing depends on better planning and preparation.

This is also why we try to include our guests as much as possible in the planning and preparation of our outings, modeling how they can plan their own trips in the future.  

Clients use a rope tarp to protect themselves from an unexpected hail storm while climbing in Crazy Woman Canyon
Using a rope tarp to protect from hail in Crazy Woman Canyon

2) Stay on durable surfaces

Keep to designated trails to avoid trampling vegetation, causing soil compaction and erosion.  In many climbing areas there is no established trail system and there can be multiple climbers’ trails going to the same crag, resulting in a spider-web of unmaintained trails as is the case now in Ten Sleep Canyon.  Designating a climbing trail system is one of the long term goals of the Bighorn National Forest Service as they work on a climbing management plan for Ten Sleep Canyon.

Camping in designated campsites is straightforward enough, but sometimes camping on durable surfaces in non-designated sites is a bit counterintuitive.  What makes most sense to camp on: a grassy meadow, a slab of granite, or a snow drift? Most of us don’t like sleeping on a rock, but bringing a little thicker sleeping pad is a lot better than trampling alpine tundra which can take decades to recover.  And don’t just think about yourself – wherever you decide to camp in the backcountry, others will soon follow, causing even more damage.

Be sure to follow all the land manager’s regulations for camping in the backcountry – most often 50-100m away from water, trails, and roads.  Wash away from campsites and water sources. Also be sure to look out for game trails near the camping area and sleep a good distance from those.  Separate sleeping areas, cooking areas, and food storage areas.

3) Dispose of waste properly

The golden rule of LNT: if you carry it in, carry it out (whether it’s in your backpack or in your bowels).  There are no port-a-potties in most climbing areas in Wyoming, so we have to pack out solid waste in either a port-a-toilet or Waste Alleviation and Gelling (WAG) bags.  These can be a bit tricky to use but if handled correctly are the easiest and most sanitary means of packing out your poo. 

It’s not feasible to pack out urine and urine itself isn’t very harmful to the environment.  It’s the smell that’s bothersome, especially in enclosed and poorly ventilated areas like overhanging crags.  For that reason we require people to urinate at least 50-100m away from belay areas, trails, campsites, and roads, preferably in a designated area. To further prevent odor we suggest taking some extra water and diluting the place where you pee.

Trash sculptures created by Wyoming Mountain Guides Youth Climbing Camp participants
Trash sculptures made by our youth climbing camp participants

4) Leave what you find

This principle is opposed to earlier practices of backcountry woodcraft, which emphasized resourcefulness and the ability to use what you could find to survive in the wild.  LNT recommends packing in your own shelter, stove and food. This makes a huge difference in reducing the visible impact of camping on the landscape.  

A big part of what we’re doing here at Wyoming Mountain Guides is trying to foster appreciation and respect for what this place was to people before us. These mountains have been home to people for around 10,000 years.  In fact, people were here before glaciers carved these mountains into their present form. Little pieces of these past peoples’ lives lay shattered and strewn across this landscape, so please do not take anything – whether or not it looks like an artifact, it’s simply not yours to keep.  Also, taking artifacts off public lands constitutes a federal crime.  

Further, please do not take any rocks.  Wyoming is a geological treasure chest, so leave those treasures for others.  When you take that rock home, you’re taking away millions or even billions of years of earth’s natural history.  

5) Minimize campfire impacts

Generally we do not recommend having a campfire in arid parts of Wyoming during the summer.  Our operation simply cannot afford to start a wildfire, so we only cook with stoves. However, we do bring fire starting supplies (waterproof matches, cotton balls soaked with vaseline) in case of an emergency.  In case you need to build a fire, use these strategies:

  • Follow seasonal fire restrictions, 
  • Only make fires in designated campsites,
  • Do not make any fires above treeline,
  • Do not make fires in heavy winds or near large stocks of fuel,
  • Only use dead vegetation for fuel – no toxic trash
  • Keep the fire small, 
  • Watch for stray embers, 
  • Smother and stir the fire with dirt to put it out
  • Don’t leave the fire until the surface is cool to the touch.

6) Respect wildlife

Wyoming is home to hundreds of species of wildlife – some of the largest herds left in the country of big game like elk, moose, deer, and pronghorn; predators like black bears and coyotes; raptors and birds of prey, along with rodents, reptiles, songbirds and others.  Respect for wildlife is a big part of Wyoming culture and wildlife violations are punished as serious crimes. Keep your distance and give wildlife as much space as possible so as to not desensitize animals to human presence – even if that means not getting a great photo, moving to another crag, or switching campsites.  Do not leave food or waste that could attract scavengers, habituate wildlife to human food, and lead to more problematic incursions of wildlife near people’s homes. Respect for wildlife also means respect for the dead – if you’re driving and you see roadkill, please take the time and (safely) drag it off the road.

Pine Marten on summit of Cloud Peak
Pine marten on the summit of Cloud Peak

7) Be considerate of other visitors

We can’t emphasize this principle enough.  Climbing might be a relatively low impact recreational activity, but it has a huge visual impact because we climb on vertical – and very visible – terrain.  Give other people plenty of space to climb, avoid being too loud or too messy, be helpful when needed, and be diplomatic when there’s a disagreement. Most importantly, respect other people’s right to be on public lands.  This is something we Wyomingites often struggle with, largely because there is so much open space, we grow used to not seeing anyone else and we start to think we’re the only ones that should be out there.

Wyoming Mountain Guides Logo JPEG
%d bloggers like this: