“Take nothing but memories. Leave nothing but footprints.” -Chief Seattle
We stood in the Greenland wilderness 50 miles to the closest city, surrounded by crystal clear lakes we drank water directly from. Hills and mountains loomed ahead. This was it. This was why we were here – the feeling of being in the middle of nature. No phones. No Internet.
A unique quietness surrounded us, one of sheer remoteness. We hadn’t seen anyone else in over a day. This was the halfway point of the Arctic Circle Trail, and we still couldn’t stop admiring the beauty of the unique views around every corner – the lakes, mountains, vegetation, and wildlife were impressive in every way.
We continued to marvel at the fact that there was no sign of human existence this far out in the wilderness. Everything surrounding us was pure natural beauty. However, as we walked up a hill to one of the 10 red huts along the trail, we were suddenly thrusted into signs of human contact.
The trail leading to a lake was dotted with toilet paper sticking out like a sore thumb. As we put our bags down on the hut’s porch, we came across mass amounts of trash – even a large bucket full of food packaging and containers someone had tried to light on fire.
Here we were in a midst of a trash mountain in Greenland’s beautiful backcountry. I was aghast, angry, disappointed. I couldn’t believe anyone could be surrounded by such serene views and litter the ground with rubbish.
As travelers, we need to ensure we are not impacting the places we visit in a negative way. Here’s a few tips to help you leave nothing but footprints when hiking and camping.
Pack out everything you bring in. Everything. It’s as simple as that.
Be aware of your surroundings. I’m sure some people don’t mean to leave a piece of trash or two behind. It just gets accidentally left. Look around and double check when leaving a spot that you haven’t left any rubbish.
Don’t burn non-burnable trash. Burning trash produces toxic smoke, and often it doesn’t fully burn. It can even start a wildfire. At the same spot there were remnants of burned trash in Greenland, there was also a wildfire. I hate to think it could have started from someone burning their trash and scraps.
Put used toilet paper in a Ziploc bag. Maybe read How to Shit in the Woods. I’m sure that book doesn’t say “It’s fine, just leave your toilet paper on the ground.”
Leave natural objects alone. There seems to always be new stories cropping up about people damaging nature sites, like most recently, a group making an iconic rock topple over in Oregon or a woman scrawling on rocks in seven national parks. Just look at these beautiful natural formations. Don’t damage them.
What other ways can we make sure we leave no trace?