You Can Make An Impact – One Way Or Another

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Photos top to bottom:
– The Author, Kevin McGarity, on the to of Mount Bierstadt holding carboard litter. Photo: L. Martin
– Kevin McGarity on the cruise to Bierstadt Photo: L. Martin
– Flat Tops Wilderness Tundra. Photo: M. Selleck
– Flat Tops Wildflowers. Photo: M. Selleck

What’s Your Impact?

– Impact is a word often thrown around in a variety of connotations. Some may think of how an individual or idea has influenced a way of thinking. Others may think about the physical interaction between two objects.

Wednesday morning before meandering into The Ski Haus a mere two hours late, I had the opportunity to hike one of Colorado’s most popular and easily accessed 14ers; Bierstadt. With only 2,400ft of elevation gain in only 3 miles and an easily accessed trailhead, it’s no wonder why so many drive up from the front range to bag this beautiful peak.
Generally bagging peaks isn’t my primary MO unless inspired by everyone’s favorite Ski Haus employee and current Alaskan vagabond, “American” (English) Dave. Even then, it’s unusual for me to set my sights on such a popular destination. One may wonder what had me step out of my comfort zone and try something relatively pedestrian? A very cute girl, of course.
When hiking up in this high alpine destination, it does not take long to realize how much of an impact humans have made in this fragile ecosystem. The trail is a wide breach for a majority of the ascent. Rock steps, wood barriers, which are not benches but put in place for erosion mitigation, and a beautifully built boardwalk that meanders over the marsh through the willows. These are all examples of infrastructure put in place to reduce the amount of impact humans cause in this environment.
Many hikers move over these improvements and do not think twice about why they exist. Before the boardwalk, hikers would tromp through the willows in search of the driest avenue, inevitably trampling much of the flora barely clinching to existence above 12,500ft. The well buffed trail with several well established switchbacks and climbing turns makes the path to the top streamlined, keeping thousands of unnecessary footprints from cutting switchbacks and expediting erosion. Moreover, the rock steps offer a durable surface and easier ascending in the delicate high alpine. This infrastructure has been put in place to keep this spectacular wilderness wild. It keeps most on a set path towards the summit, reduces route finding challenges and helps many access this spectacular mountain.
Unfortunately, the most disheartening thing experienced the entire day was on the summit, remnants of cardboard signs denoting the summit and elevation were scattered about. Micro garbage from energy bar wrappers and leftover biodegradable matter, sorry, but a banana peal will not decompose well at 14,000ft. Just remember, pack it in, pack it out. This is a very simple concept that takes minimal effort.
Whether you are a first time Fourteener hiker, or a family group looking for a special outing in the mountains, or you are a passionate mountain athlete, Wilderness Areas offer a unique experience into the natural world. Everyone out there may be in a different part of their own journey but we all can use a friendly reminder to respect the mountains and the fragile life that manages to survive in such a rugged landscape.
Please remember to pack out what you bring, stay the trail, don’t forget to slow down , and enjoy the splendor of Colorado.
To learn more about how you can travel overland with mininmal impact click here: Leave No Trace.

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