Wilderness Wanderings: Sounds and signs of wilderness
It is not unusual for a hiker to exclaim, “Cool!” when they see the crosscut saws that Friends of Wilderness volunteers like myself use when cutting fallen trees from the trails in our nearby Mount Zirkel, Flat Tops and Sarvis Creek wilderness areas.
But we also get the occasional question, “Why don’t you use a chainsaw?”
We acknowledge that a chainsaw would cut through trees much faster and with less work. But we also understand the reason for the regulations that prohibit motorized equipment or mechanical transportation in designated wilderness.
The Wilderness Act was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1964 to ensure the preservation of wild lands “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain… retaining its primeval character and influence.”
The sounds of wilderness are the bugle of elk, chirping of birds, splashing of beavers and cascading streams and waterfalls. The roar of a chainsaw is a sound of civilization that would certainly encroach on a backcountry visitor’s search for a wilderness experience. As well, it would quickly scare off nearby wildlife, thus eliminating any opportunity for a glimpse of elk, deer, beaver or an eagle in their natural habitat.
Thus, we have large areas of land where we can experience for a day, weekend or a week the natural environment as it existed 200 years ago. Imagine interacting with the land as Lewis and Clark and other scouts and trappers did in their travels through the mountain states.
Another way to view wilderness is through the lens of backcountry ethics. Rather than follow regulations because of the fear of getting a fine, one should do so because it’s the right thing to do, even when no one is looking
Imagine planning a weekend backpacking trip into the Zirkel Wilderness to recharge your personal batteries after a hard week at work. You and your family or friends expect to interact with nature on her terms.
You set up your camp in a remote area, well away from the trail and the nearby Alpine lake. However, when you go down to the lake after dinner to try your fishing luck with the native trout, you find that several groups have set up their camps along the shoreline. The campers are friendly and obviously having a great time singing campfire songs and skipping rocks into the water. But it collides with the experience of solitude with nature you had expected.
We also know that elk and deer come to the lakes to drink water during the hours around dawn and dusk. But wildlife avoid those areas if humans are present and instead search for secluded streams. We greatly increase our chances of seeing wildlife if we camp away from the lake and then quietly visit it from a nearby overlook.
Challenge yourself to see how many sounds of civilization you can eliminate on your next outing into one of our wilderness areas.
Or have your family play a game: count how many natural sounds you can hear — different bird calls, a coyote howling, wind blowing through the trees or even a tree falling. Compare that against man-made sounds — airplanes, voices, I-tunes and the like. Look at the totals at the end of your trip. Did you hear more sounds of wilderness or did civilization prevail?
Know before you go:
High country stream and water crossings are still high. The best place to ford is at the trail. Searching upstream or downstream for alternative places to cross causes damage to the natural resource. If you don’t want to get your boots wet, carry a pair of river sandals and enjoy the coolness of the water as you walk through it.
Camping is banned within one-quarter mile of several of our Mount Zirkel Wilderness lakes — Gold, Gilpin and Three Island — and within 100 feet of all other lakes, streams and trails in wilderness areas in order to maintain a sense of solitude but also to protect the environment.
If you pack it in, please pack it back out. Burying garbage is futile; wildlife will still find its scent and dig it up.
Bob Korch is a vice president and trail volunteer with Friends of Wilderness, which assists the U.S. Forest Service in maintaining trails and educating the public in the Mount Zirkel, Sarvis Creek and Flat Tops wilderness areas. For more information, visit http://www.FriendsofWilderness.com.
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Beginning with the 2021-22 season, Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. will be eliminating single-use plastic bottles on the mountain.