"This curious world we inhabit is more wonderful than convenient; more beautiful than useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used."
Henry David Thoreau, here emphasizes the importance of solitude, contemplation, and closeness to nature in his quest to possibly inspire humanity to save the planet. Whether he succeeded is immaterial but the thought still has a significant relevance.
My endeavour here is not to inspire a section of people (who may eventually read what I have to say on the matter ) ,but to share the means by which one can actually follow Eco-Trekking practices and the fact that practicing them is not that inconvenient as it is made out to be.
If one has true love for the mountains, there has to be an expression of loyalty towards it. Hence it becomes imperative that we ensure that whenever we plan our adventures into the wilderness, we follow some eco-friendly practices which is aimed towards the best interest of preservation and sustainability. Paying attention to even small things can contribute in ensuring much cleaner trails and water-bodies.
I will present to you a few fundamental solutions that can help in the said cause;
1 How to dispose trash when you are on a trek.
To begin with, know that what you discard away irresponsibly while you are on trek has a direct and indirect consequence towards polluting the zone. Separating degradable and non-degradable waste is always a good idea. Since you are not always going to find a sound waste disposal mechanism set up by the local administration on the trekking trails, you have to take the initiative of carrying your trash to the nearest campsite, lodge or a hotel. You can always dig a pit at your campsite to bury the biodegradable waste and bury it. If trekking with an agency, ask the staff to do it for you and monitor if they are doing it right. Carrying extra bags to be used to stack up the non-degradable waste is a good idea. All the plastic materials, aluminium cans, used batteries, foils, bottles needs to go in one place. I have always practiced taking waste like used batteries, beer cans back to my city for a proper disposal while on a trek. If trekking in a team, designate a spot where you can set up bags to discard any waste. Insist other members from your team to put their trash. The collected waste can then be moved at the time when you are moving out of the campsite. To discourage littering among your team set rules of punishment/fine if one is found guilty of littering the campsite or trails. I found fining members observed littering to be a good practice on treks I did with a larger team. The money collected may be used for any initiative or to tip your porters, local guide etc later on.
The following video will summarize how to dispose trash while trekking.
2. How to stay clean and fresh? Tips on personal hygiene when you are on a trek.
Showers are usually not available at a campsite during the entirety of your trek. You may get an opportunity to take a bath in the mountain stream or a lake but do it only without the application of a soap or a shampoo as you do not want to contaminate the water. You can carry the water in a suitable container to a spot away from the water-body.
You can follow some basic tips to stay clean:
- Removing shoes and socks at least once a day will allow feet to breathe. Keeping shoes on could cause a foot fungus known as "athlete's foot" to flare. This could occur due to feet being in a warm and moist area – the shoe – for a long period of time. Changing your socks every day is also a way to avoid athlete's foot.
- Keeping toenails clipped flat instead of rounded will avoid toes and toenails to become jammed in shoes.
- Using mouthwash will kill bacteria that is grown in the mouth when not brushing for long periods of time. Some mouthwash, such as Listerine, is also known to act as a mosquito repellent.
- Cleaning wipes or biodegradable soap will ensure body cleanliness.
- Bringing plenty of clean underwear and feminine wipes for women will decrease the possibility of private infections.
- Biodegradable toilet paper may be used when nature calls. Using leaves and other natural materials could cause serious infections or diseases. However I have not seen one available readily in our country.
- When coming across a cold and clear creek, strip down to undergarments and lie in the water to cool off the body and clean out closed areas such as the underarms. Wetting hair will dispose of the grease that forms from the scalp.
3. How to Relieve One's Self in a Clean Way?
Insist with your trek organizers/agency to set up toilet tents, at least 50 meters (150 feet) away from any water source. Otherwise pick a spot away from any water source or religious site. For unregulated areas, here are few pointers one can practice:
- Urinate or waste your feces at least three hundred feet away from the campsite and far away from the water source.
- Urinating on a rock is best because when the sun dries it up, salt is left on the rock for deer and other wild animals to enjoy.
- Feces need to be dumped in a hole and buried to ensure wild animals to stay away from the camp.
- Using biodegradable toilet paper is best. To keep odor away, the biodegradable toilet paper needs to be buried after use.
- Moist wipes for use after relieving yourself will guarantee cleanliness and freshness.
Remember leaving toilet paper at the campsite is totally unacceptable. Take the waste paper to your camp and burn it or dispose it at the nearest waste disposal available at the road head. Burying the paper seldom works as wild animals often dig it out or the rain displaces it.
4. Why use of industrial fuel for cooking is a better alternative to wood?
Use of wood for cooking purpose puts pressure on the existing forest and contributes to deforestation. It is hence advisable to explore the option of using kerosene or gas with a fuel efficient stoves. On the Indian trekking perspective, kerosene as a fuel has not always worked best along with the kind of locally made kerosene stoves used on treks. They were found susceptible to breaking down and odd leakage of the kerosene container was common. On the other hand carrying the heavy gas cylinders is observed as a nuisance, although a superior option of the two. However if one invests in procuring an efficient and light backpacking stove from abroad it can work on a more convenient fuel, i.e. kerosene and they are less susceptible to leakage and breakdown.
5. Are campfire a necessity?
This is a tricky question and not an easy one to address. For a trekking experience is considered incomplete if a camp fire is not provided. In many of the treks I have been, I have seen people demanding for a campfire not just for the warmth but for sitting around it as an integral part of the whole camping experience.
There are two issues that are linked with arranging for campfire. First is the arrangement of wood may require you to chop down branches of tree yourself or if prior arrangements have been made it would have resulted in cutting down a tree from its vicinity contributing to deforestation. To quote an example, in 2001 the local authorities in the National Park of Mt. Kilimanjaro banned the use of wood for cooking or for bonfire purpose as it directly resulted in wiping out most of the forest cover in that region. Knowing that a tree takes a longer time to grow and reach an age of maturity in higher regions of Himalayas, any re-planting initiative will take decades to show any kind of progress made. Wear warm clothing and do not insist for bonfire unless the cold is unbearable. The second issue is the inadequate knowledge on starting a campfire and not knowing how to control it, causing a forest fire. It is always advisable for an experienced person to handle the campfire. The following document will give you more information on fire lightning and fire-control skills while camping:
6. How to purify drinking water and its benefits.
Having purification tablets/iodine is a good option to filter water because you will not have the time to boil your water always. They are small, cheap and light to carry. Even if you intend to boil water you may still need purification tablets in the event of an emergency. The water once purified may still taste of chemicals. As a remedy try putting oral rehydration salts into the water which will improve the flavour and keep you healthy. The Rehydration salts are sold in packets that contain powder and are small and light to carry. Orange flavour is usually considered the best flavour and available from most local chemists. Always carry 2 reusable water bottles so that you always have one bottle to drink from, while the water in your other bottle is being purified. Avoid buying water as there always will be abundance of water sources on your trekking trail. Buying water bottles will only add to collection of plastic bottles which will pollute the environment if not disposed correctly. Normally the method of disposal which local administration use is to burn the bottles or are thrown in the nearest available stream or river.
To conclude, the idea of “Green Trekking” needs no defence, it only needs more defenders. Remember your initiative DOES make a difference. So do what you know is the right thing to do, always.
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