How to be a Responsible Trekker

everest waste collection

Collecting waste in Everest Region. Image: Everest Summiteers Association

Trekking is a great way to keep fit and see more of the natural beauty of the world around us, and Nepal is a great country to go trekking in. It can even be said that Nepal is perhaps the best country in the world to do so, having as it does some of the most challenging, interesting, and varied trekking routes found anywhere around the globe. Add to that the fact that, with the opening of the Great Himalaya Trail, the highest and longest trekking route in the world, Nepal is most certainly any trekker’s paradise. However, with ever increasing numbers of trekkers coming in every year, there’s need for more awareness about how to keep the fragile Himalayan environment undisturbed (as far as possible) and prevent the further degradation of its delicate ecology. That is why it is essential that all trekkers keep in mind some of the golden rules of responsible trekking.

First and foremost, prepare well in advance. This includes the choice of your trekking agency. Preferably, choose one that has lots of experience and follows the principles of responsible trekking. It also includes your decision to choose routes that are less used so that you do not add to the crowd already present in more popular routes. And, it would be wise to limit your numbers. Ten at a time is good. More than that and you’ll be facing some problems, especially if you are going to be camping in tents on the trail. Your preparation should also include making the correct choice of clothes and equipment. As far as your clothes are concerned, wear earthy hues, no bright colors please. Same thing goes for other things like tent, backpacks, sleeping bags, and so on. More eco-friendly, you see.

Take the trouble to carry along a stove, even if small-sized, and some fuel so that you use less of firewood.  Your tent (s) should come with their own poles and their floor should be waterproof; which means you don’t need to cut trees for poles, and you don’t need to dig rainwater ditches. While trekking through the wilds, you wouldn’t want to disturb wildlife, so ensure that you have earphones for your music player/radio. Another preparatory act would be to transfer packed food from metal can to plastic bags. This will not only reduce litter but also lessen the weight you carry. And, yes, do carry some large-sized garbage bags.

Now, when you are on the trail, here are some don’ts: don’t make unnecessary noise, this shows respect for locals around the area and doesn’t frighten animals; don’t try and feed animals that you come across, this will spoil their usual dietary habits; refrain from carving your and your sweetheart’s name on trees, let them be; don’t go around poking around religious sites, and desist from touching what are clearly sacred objects, the locals might take offense, and that’s not good; and if you come across things like ridge top cairns, leave them alone, don’t disturb them, they may be there as landmarks helping people navigate. If you come across paths that are blocked by rocks or logs, look for another path, it’s probable that a better and safer path has been made. If your group s relatively large, walk at a distance from each other when walking through flower meadows, this will reduce the trampling of plants.

When cooking, try to make more use of your stove(s) so that you don’t use up too much wood for the fire; actually, it is also safer since there’s more of a fire hazard using dry firewood. Also, keep in mind that you have to use stoves for cooking when in national parks. One other thing you need to realize is that, higher up above the tree line, vegetation is pretty sparse, and so you got to stop making it sparser. If, in any case, you have to build a fire, keep it as small as possible, and use it only for cooking. You would be eco-friendly if you build your fire on snow, ice, rocks, or gravel, as also on dry washes of sand if you are around a river bank. Take some precautionary measures such as ringing your fire with rocks so that it doesn’t spread. If you are camping in some well-used site, make a fire in the same area used by others before, and it need not be said, but has to be said: douse your fire well when you are done with the cooking. A small spark has the potential to create unimaginable havoc.

Now, here’s something that will make you more of an environmentalist; after dousing out your fire, take the ashes and scatter them over the site. This is ‘naturalizing’. As far as firewood is concerned, collect a little from different places so that no one area suffers too much depletion, and yes, go for deadwood lying around on the ground as far as possible. Maybe you can even buy some from locals if they have some. Main thing is, cut down on the need for cutting down trees; you’re not the only one that will be doing so, there’s many more who will be trekking on your route and the cumulative effect could be great.

Now, what about all the rubbish you and your group will be leaving behind on the trail? Firstly, remember that you don’t need to really use soap in the wilds. Water alone is enough for washing and cleaning; so, no soaps. What about peeing and such things? Well, if it’s in an area of snow, after emptying your bladder, cover the despoiled area with more snow so that the color at least remain as before. For deeds of a longer nature, do the deed some distance away from the trail and far away from campsites or houses. Toilet paper is something that’s best not carried; use water instead. While camping, and again, if the group is relatively large, dig some pretty deep latrines, and before leaving the site, cover them with plenty of soil and stones. As for other rubbish, burn them if possible; if not, pack them out with you.

These are some things that will make you a more responsible trekker, and won’t that be great?

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