Saturday, June 14, 2014

Commentary: Adirondack Trail Etiquette

wall of moss on way up to the topLast week I wrote a column about dogs in the back country and the need to keep them leashed while on the trail. This led to the issue of trail etiquette in general, a topic I have decided to address.

I’m trying to think of an Adirondack subject that annoys me more than behavior on trails and it isn’t coming to me. My experience of various hikers on trails is one of the primary motivators in my ongoing quest to actively dislike the majority of humanity. Trail etiquette is more important than most people think and it less followed than most people think as well. Not only that, in my experience there is surprisingly little understanding about what proper trail etiquette is.

I’m going to lay out my own views on Adirondack trail etiquette – that is, taking into consideration the unique nature of our back country terrain. I’ll also limit my concerns to foot trails only, not those used by horses, mountain bikes or motorized vehicles. A couple of my positions go against what is considered to be conventional trail wisdom. I’ll elaborate on those in some detail.

I suppose the initial order of business is to make a case for why trail etiquette is important in the first place. Based upon observed behavior on trails I could easily conclude that many people don’t think it is.  But the truth is that it is very important. For one thing, the wilderness experiences had by the vast majority of back country visitors are really wilderness trail experiences. A poor experience on the trail is a poor experience in the woods. For another, much of the Adirondack ground is quite fragile, with thin soils that invite erosion. Then there is the fact that Adirondack trails are tougher going than trails in many other places. Proper footfalls are a matter of safety every bit as much as they are a matter of environmental responsibility.

There are some trail etiquette baselines that are obvious and straightforward.  I’ll list those rules assuming there is no need for elaboration or debate:

  • Avoid trail erosion by walking in the middle of trails, not on the edges
  • Rock hop when possible, especially above 4,000 feet
  • Never step on vegetation
  • No littering. Pack out what you pack in
  • Silence electronic devices and/or use headphones
  • Minimize noise; consider your voice level
  • Leash your dog
  • Greet hikers
  • If passing from behind say something

In winter:

  •  Wear snow shoes if snow depth is six inches or more (DEC says eight inches, but I find that invites people to round up to a foot; six inches is enough)
  • Stay out of ski tracks

Based upon most of these standards I find peoples’ trail behavior  to be generally polite and considerate of the forest.  Most hikers are quiet, careful not to litter and communicative when passing or greeting. I do see and pack out litter here and there but it is obvious that most of it is inadvertent; in more than fifty years of hiking I have never once seen someone deliberately litter (which is good because honest to god if I did see it one of us would be dead shortly thereafter).  The Adirondacks are certainly more litter-free than most wilderness areas I’ve visited.

However, there is a glaring exception which gives rise to my previously stated animus. The rules that have to do with where people place their feet largely get ignored. That’s especially sad because of the lasting impact footfalls have. I don’t know if it is a ridiculous aversion to dirt (a growing cultural phenomenon, the home products industry having convinced us we need to flood ourselves with anti-bacterial this and disinfectant that, as though sterility is healthy). But hikers of every stripe, including plenty who should know better, regularly go to the edges of a trail to avoid mud. Or, they might go off trail altogether – not to bushwhack, an activity I highly endorse, but to trample vegetation in some impromptu herd path that avoids a puddle or branch. This kind of behavior I find unforgivable.

I have advocated for big signs at trail heads that address the stupidity of trail erosion with appropriately aggressive language but short of that I don’t know what to do to make people hew to the middle.  I invite creative reader suggestions; my own ideas tend toward the illegal.

Next are a few rules that one might think are obvious, but the devil is in the details.

  • Yield appropriately when being passed
  • Don’t block the trail
  • Take care of your bathroom business properly

As for yielding, people need to defeat the need to wholesale clear out of the trail altogether, trampling and uprooting underbrush unnecessarily. Most any trail will have plenty of spots to discreetly make room. So what if you are passed by in close proximity? Get over it. Stay on the trail.

As for not blocking the trail, when you stop, do it so that there is a route past you. I’m constantly amazed by how little this is done; people can be so dim that way. If you can’t find a good place on the trail to rest, then move well off of it where your impact will be dispersed and not likely repeated by others. Try to find a rock upon which to rest your keister instead of some poor plant or patch of moss that will just make a badly-situated wet stain anyhow.

Now with respect to bathroom matters I get to be a math geek for a moment. I won’t even dignify discussing people who can’t be bothered to bury their business and TP in a cat hole of proper depth.  But distance matters too: the rule of thumb should be to do your business at least 150 feet away from the trail, the same magic number found in numerous DEC regulations. Privacy is one reason. Sparing others from smell is another. But the best reason is that the odds anyone will accidentally stumble upon your waste become vanishingly small.   That’s because the total area available for your “use” increases exponentially with every foot of distance you put between yourself and the trail. At 20 feet of distance you have around 1,200 square feet to work with, not all that much considering other hikers who may traipse around out there. At 150 feet you have fifty times as much area.

How many people go at least 150 feet before relieving themselves? Almost nobody. Why? It’s too far.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine the average human stride is about 5 feet and takes 1.25 seconds. That means traveling 150 feet on level ground takes a little over 30 seconds. Let’s double it because, after all, it’s the Adirondack forest. So it’s too far to go 150 feet because that will take a whole two minutes round trip. This in the context of toiling miles over torturously uneven ground with 25 to 50 pounds on your back. Sheesh.

Finally there are two rules about yielding for which I claim the conventional wisdom is wrong. On both counts the characteristics of Adirondack trails come into play.

The first is the general principle that larger groups should yield to smaller groups or to solo hikers. This is an oft-repeated rule, based I suppose upon common notions of courtesy. But it is no friend to Adirondack flora.   My version is the reverse: smaller groups or solo hikers should always yield to larger groups. Smaller groups can more easily find a way to yield without committing a heinous act of erosion or trampling. Asking a large group to get out of the way is asking for some good, solid trail damage.

Last but not least is the one rule of trail etiquette over which I’ve actually gotten into semi-heated arguments.  The standard rule for hiking on slopes (though not universal by any means) is that the party going downhill should yield to the party going uphill. The rationale is that going uphill takes more effort and has hikers relying upon a steady rhythm that is better if not broken.  My opinion, especially given how treacherous Adirondack trails can be, is once again the reverse – and I must say it is emphatically so.  Going downhill is more difficult, more dangerous and harder to control. Downhill rhythm is much more important than uphill rhythm.   Given these facts, hikers ascending should always yield to hikers descending.  Period.  Argue the point if you like.

Taken as a whole, all of this amounts to a rules-based stand-in for two simple concepts that would just about fix the problem: one, be thoughtful, self-aware and courteous to current and future trail users; and two, do whatever you need to do to not harm any vegetation. It ought to be that simple. But that’s why my dislike of much of humanity is all too often rewarded: for some reason it apparently isn’t.

Your thoughts on trail etiquette?

Photo: Ridge trail at Lost Brook Tract, a trail you would not want to erode.

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Pete Nelson is a teacher, writer, essayist and activist whose work has appeared in a variety of Adirondack publications, and regularly in the Adirondack Almanack since 2005. Pete is also a founder and current Coordinator of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, which is working to make the Park more welcoming and inclusive.When not writing or teaching mathematics at North Country Community College, Pete can be found in the back country, making music or even walking on stilts, which he and his wife Amy have done professionally throughout the United States for nearly two decades.Pete is a proud resident of Keene, and along with Amy and his dog Henderson owns Lost Brook Tract, a forty-acre inholding deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.




57 Responses

  1. Actually Pete, I agree with everything you wrote…no arguments here. In martial arts we define etiquette as “doing a little more than absolutely necessary.” It takes little effort to be overly courteous and the return is worth it. In today’s society we need people, especially youth, to reconnect with nature, something that’s being lost based on my observation. A little courtesy in any way will add to their overall experience.

    I generally make it a point to move aside for others regardless of the size of the party, the exception being when they’ve been courteous enough to move aside preemptively. In that case I always express appreciation. Lead by example…

    As for bathroom etiquette, is it just me or is it more common than not for people to urinate in the center of the trail during winter? I’ve never understood that one.

    Anyway, nice article and good points.

    • Jared says:

      Nice article. I would like to add that I have broken trail in snowshoes, and when returning find someone in skis in my tracks. So your only going to get the respect from those who really care. Most of people do not leash there animals. I have never had a problem with any of them YET. I also ware waterproof hiking shoes, most people wear cross trainers. in bright colors, they also stay away from the mud puddles and make new trails not cool! If your going hiking dress for it. As for rock hoping, I’m no exception, I’ve had to be told to watch out for areas of concern. With a growing population on the trails, we will see many strange and different occurrences that involve people and pets.

  2. Bob S says:

    Nice article Pete – and much appreciated. I go a step further as taught by my mentor, Don McMullen. pick up what litter you find, even the smallest bits of plastic or debris. Anything we can do to improve our trails and natural state for those who live there (animals) will ultimately benefit the planet. Thanks again

    • Pete Nelson says:

      Amen to that. I find that some people do, many do not. Once people get tired they get less magnanimous about picking up litter. Oh well.

  3. roamin with broman says:

    So we should step in the mud and puddles…..sorry, I will not.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      Yes, you should step in mud and puddles, if you have to. What’s the big deal?

      If you walk on the edges you’ll surely deteriorate the trail further, creating a bigger problem with mud and puddles. Of course if you’re not going to be back much, why care about other people? Who cares about the other negative effects of trail erosion either? As long as your footsies are clean you’re good, right? You count the most anyhow, right? You’re entitled to have nice clean footwear, right? You must be a very important person.

      Fortunately the Adirondacks are overrun with rocks. Rock hopping is available over the majority of trail mileage. Try that.

      If it’s not too much trouble, that is.

      • Michael says:

        Pete,

        I’d suggest you try an educational rather than an insulting and condescending tone. I certainly empathize with your frustration regarding the issue. However, as a professional educator (as I believe you are as well), I can assure you that type response will most certainly not persuade the person to see your point of view.

        Also, I was disappointed regarding your comment regarding what might happen if you were to see someone littering. The threat of lethal force, even if only in jest, is inappropriate in my opinion. Although I haven’t always agreed with your viewpoints and opinions in your articles, I’ve always respected your passion for Adirondack issues and pursuit of respectful debate regarding those issues. Unfortunately, after reading this piece I’m unsure whether I will continue to read your work.

        Respectfully,
        Mike

        • Paul says:

          I agree. When I read this comment. I was thinking that Pete had temporarily lost his mind.

        • Paul says:

          I think that many people are like cats. They will do just about anything to avoid getting their feet wet. So educating them on the necessity to do so is something that takes effort.

      • Dan Crane says:

        Ouch. And I always thought I was the master of snark when it came to comment responses, but obviously, I was in error.

        I don’t want to be a contrarian (who I am I kidding, of course I do) and at the risk of being ground zero for Pete’s sardonic wit, I really don’t see the need for all the concern over walking around muddy or wet areas. Sure, it sometimes leads to a messy trail, but I don’t see it causing much erosion unless the trail is on a steep slope or in an alpine area (where it really is a major concern).

        This article shows some of the High Peaks centric thinking that I mentioned in my last post, because in most places the problem isn’t erosion, but trail creep. Trail creep does lead to more trampling of vegetation, but plenty of plants were destroyed in the construction of the trail, not to mention all those poor ones that have the misfortune of growing in the trail each year. By building a trail, and continuously using it, we spreading impact that starts in the middle of the trail and slowly subsides with distance from its center.

        This could become an entire non-issue, if people would just go trailless more often.

        • Paul says:

          I think that people, like other animals, tend to follow the same routes through the woods without even thinking about it. So what is trailess now will eventually become the trail. Call it a runway if you are a deer or rabbit.

      • John says:

        I have found, more times than not, that walking in the middle of the trail is in fact packed down more than the sides and therefor you won’t sink in as much. I agree with Pete on this point. I wear the Garmont, GoreTex, above the ankle hiking boots and have not gotten my feet wet at all. I walk right down the center, mud and all. The outside of my boots get muddy but I really don’t care. It isn’t that big a chore to spray them off with a hose when I get home. My suggestion…. if you are a true Adirondack lover you should invest in a good pair of waterproof breathable hiking boots and save the flashy running sneakers for the paved roads. Pete, I am going to expand on the necessity of wearing the proper winter foot gear. If you are wearing crampons and you are post holing please stop and put your snowshoes on. When you are post holing on the trails it freezes like that and it makes it very difficult for the hikers that are considerate enough to wear the proper gear.

    • Bob Meyer says:

      roamin,
      are you afraid of getting mud & water on you?
      how can you be so unaware of the damage done when you constantly widen & erode trails by NOT staying IN the trail. our ecosystem, especially the high altitude, is fragile & rare. you have no business damaging it. if you don’t like it, go somewhere else like the desert.

  4. southcove says:

    90% agreed… mostly have found issues with those simply out for a hike, i.e. – first timers or one shotters.

    No, take that back, plenty of others get back in the woods with the wrong reasons and the wrong attitudes.

    • Ning DelBarco says:

      Fer Pete’s sake you guys! Who made you the judge of who hikes for the ‘wrong’ reason and with the ‘wrong’ attitude!?

      Ya know what I hate? Running into self-appointed trail cops who are so miserable they have to spread it around.

      I find it pathetic that one should spend so much time sputtering to himself about his superior sense of ethics and purpose. It’s scary to think he’s so worried about litter, he’d kill. I think I’s rather pick it up myself and let it pass for the sake of peace.

      And no, walking in wet muddy shoes is something I will avoid if possible. If the flora along the trails is THAT endangered, or the erosion problem is getting significant, close the trail.

      Ever followed a deer trail?

  5. Pete Klein says:

    Pete, I also agree with everything you say but would make one point.
    I believe some of the problem of people hiking along the edges of trails is due to the fact that DEC doesn’t really bother with maintaining trails. The more a trail is used, the more it becomes a rutted drainage system so that many are inclined to treat the trail as a stream or swamp they walk around.
    A related trail problem is how switchbacks are so seldom used for trails going up hill. A little back and forth going up would reduce some of the erosion problems and create a friendlier if somewhat slower hike.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      As a matter of policy switchbacks are now considered mandatory by trail crews when trails are improved or new trails are cut. This is a good thing.

  6. JIM FOX says:

    Good stuff, Pete. Never thought of walking around a mudhole was a violation of trail etiquette, but that will make me think about footware before I start out in the future.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed your columns, Pete, and look forward to them every weekend. I am disheartened though, with what seems like a well thought-out attitude (since you mention it twice), that will unfortunately color – no smear – what I read from you here on in: “…my ongoing quest to actively dislike the majority of humanity.”

    I’m learning about trail etiquette… and wilderness, and preservation, and conservation; open to new informantion, other people’s perspective and suggestions. That, I would hope, is your readership.

    But if the person who is doing the teaching has an attitude toward me that grows from their quest to dislike me, it makes me feel like digging in my heels. That kind of questor has little respect for the novice, the learner, someone who is open to gaining from others’ experiences. That kind of writer’s self righteousness, with an attitude that everyone who doesn’t do it their way deserves contempt, will color my enjoyment and ability to be open to their ideas and practices.

    I find it hard, as I reflect on your columns about expanding the attitudes and experiences of urban dwellers, to believe in your sincerity. As much as I agreed with you and your guest columnist, and thought at the time, that the challenges you were presenting to us was a passion; I now give pause and assume you just like to argue. An ego thing, not a passion. I feel scammed by a disingenuious misanthrope who deserves to be confined to the Lost Brook Tract, so as not to have contact with the humanity outside his own family and circle.

    Unfortunately, I will not look forward to your columns in weekends to come, with the same openness you might hope to cultivate.

  7. Smitty says:

    Pete: what bothers me most is people who seem to go out of their way to walk or snowshoe over cross country ski tracks. Mostly this is out of ignorance. I go our of my way to thank people who intentionally avoid the broken ski tracks. As for some of our mud home trails, I really think ADK and DEC need to build more plank tracks over some of the heavily used sections. And pay no mind to your naysayers. They really need to lighten up.

  8. Pete Nelson says:

    Dear Mike and Jim:

    Thanks for reading. As with all readers, I appreciate it.

    If you’ve read me over the last few years you already know that smart-assery has always been part of my tone. It’s who I am in person and it’s who I am when I write – I don’t work very hard to craft my tone, or to be phony; I just write. If I offend I regret it, but I am experienced enough to know that public writing on a blog will offend no matter what.

    Actively disliking most of humanity is a sentiment offered with tongue planted firmly in cheek (I think that’s reasonably apparent) – though I will not hide my dismay with our growing self-indulgent, self-oriented, narcissistic culture.

    As for threatening lethal force, nowhere do I do that (or have I ever), nor is there anything in me of the violent sort. That nevertheless leaves a lot of room in the imagination to respond to litterers, for whom I have no respect.

    Again, thanks for reading.

    Pete

    • Michael says:

      Pete,

      I respect every person’s right to freedom of opinion. I also respect your creative approach to writing –

      “I don’t work very hard to craft my tone, or to be phony; I just write. If I offend I regret it, but I am experienced enough to know that public writing on a blog will offend no matter what.”

      However, I also hope you realize words can very powerful. I agree that in today’s world it’s difficult (if not impossible) to please (not offend) everyone. But that doesn’t mean we should not expend effort and endeavor to try.

      In reference to my objection about lethal force –

      “in more than fifty years of hiking I have never once seen someone deliberately litter (which is good because honest to god if I did see it one of us would be dead shortly thereafter)”

      is most certainly an implied threat of physical violence. I’m sure you said it in jest or for dramatic effect. In either case, I still think it’s inappropriate; again words can be powerful.

      I wish you well and the best of luck. Unfortunately, I have decided I will no longer be able to read your column.

      Mike

  9. adirondackjoe says:

    i hope no one comes and throws rocks at my house for suggesting this, but what about charging for a hiking license? if i want to hunt or fish in NY state i have to buy a license for both. if you charge a fee you could also include a pamphlet on trail care (walking thru puddles instead of around i bet most people don’t know that.)and proper disposal of human waste. you could charge more for certain trails that get a lot more use than others. i also think it may stop some of the overcrowding in certain areas. you could also charge more for a non resident license the way they do with hunting and fishing. the monies could be used for trail maintenance etc. anyway, just a thought.

    • John L says:

      Yeah, more fees, licenses, etc is what I’m looking for. More government intrusion too. Sign me up!

    • william Deuel,Jr says:

      Of course this is what should be done. The hunting and fishing community sustain themselves, why shouldn’t the hiking community, As a matter of fact if you look at your hunting license DEC is looking for donations for care of the hiking trails from the hunters and fisherman.

  10. Wally says:

    Excellent article. Some random additional thoughts. Unfortunately, a vast number of people do not know what “be thoughtful, self-aware and courteous to current and future trail users” means, and some of them venture in to the woods. How do we reach them? Signs would help. Perhaps the idea of a “hiking license” is not so bad. Probably couldn’t require it, but could it be made available in schools as a sort of “status symbol” – a patch with it or some other reward? Maybe focused on the Adirondacks?

    Don’t block the trail: I’ve found this especially a concern when skiing. As for the right of way, your points makes sense. But there shouldn’t be big groups and, personally, when skiing, I prefer not to have people below me when I’m headed down!

    And, yes, I walk through mud, even water – unless it over my boots; then I go home.

  11. J.P.Tiernan says:

    Though I’m a fan of Pete Nelson’s articles, this time I’ll take him up on his guess that some might disagree.
    As far as hiker etiquette and staying in the middle of the trail, I’d counter that the early trailblazers shared a single mistake in blazing trails up the fall-line. Unlike elsewhere in this country and abroad where trails are serpentine, Adk trails have all become streambeds, and the smartest solution is for either trail committees or the herd to establish wanders to create dry routes around these mistakenly built streambeds.

  12. Jim S, says:

    The mud always seems to win so why work to avoid it? Extra socks.

  13. Will Doolittle says:

    Pete, I learned about you more from this post than I did about walking on trails.

  14. Hawthorn says:

    The hike in the middle of the trail where the mud and water rule is hopeless because no matter how many reading here there will be thousands of others who will not do it–simple human nature. In all types of civil engineering it is important to take into account human nature, because you just can’t fight it. I would argue that trail construction and maintenance should follow the same. Ever noticed that if a sidewalk takes a circuitous path across a green space pretty quickly there will be formed a well-trodden route across the grass that follows the natural human pattern. Put your energy into encouraging better trail construction and maintenance, encouraging hiking in less well-trodden areas, encouraging hiking in drier areas during mud season. Forget about asking people to walk in mud–they won’t do it. On a practical level, you never know how deep that mud might be and I have many times over-topped a hiking boot by accident, which can make for an unpleasant day. Plus, I have never found a pair of comfortable hiking boots that will stay truly waterproof for long, including Gore-Tex and the lot.

  15. Hawthorn says:

    Further me, I hate to say it, but maybe certain trails should simply be closed for awhile or at least during times when they are too wet and muddy. There are plenty of other great trails to hike, and that might be the simplest solution. Asking people to hike in mud and water is hopeless.

    • Paul says:

      Absolutely, trails should be closed during mud season just like we have to do with many roads.

  16. Brian says:

    I admit sometimes I forget to silence my cell phone because there’s usually no reception at the trailhead… and I’m surprised near the top when it beeps for a text or voicemail.

    Leashing dogs is a huge one. Too many dog owners think that because their dog is supposedly friendly that people in wilderness are happy to have random dogs approach them. It’s quite presumptuous.

    • Ed says:

      Funny, I find it presumptuous that YOU think you have more “right” to a trail than my dog. In 30 years of hiking I’ve seen one constant trend. Each group thinks the trails are reserved exclusively for them and every other group should be restricted.

      • T says:

        If there is fear or dislike of dogs, what are people going to do when they see a bear!? I would say it is more natural for a dog to be free on the trail than a human, and they deserve the right to wander free. Hikers are going out to experience the wild, it seems ridiculous to put rules on animals that we domesticated from the wild.

        • John Warren says:

          Domesticated dogs are not wild animals – they are bred and trained to not run away from humans as wild dogs do. I said it before, but I guess it needs to be said again that you don’t have to be afraid of dogs to be concerned about a dog running at you on the trail with an owner trying in vain (or not bothering) to control them – you have to be smart about dogs and know what they are in fact capable of (combined with the irresponsibility of many dog owners).

          People with dogs should recognize that if they can’t keep their dog off a hiker coming down the trail, or keep it from barking and snarling at them – then their dog should be leashed.

          It’s simply being courteous to not let your dog jump on or otherwise harass people you meet on the trail – whether or not YOU think it’s harassment, or just a friendly greeting, or apparently just a dog being a wild animal.

          The first rule of trail etiquette is the first rule of life etiquette: don’t impose yourself on others.

          • Joseph Secoges says:

            I agree with John completely. I am a dog owner and his name is Adirondack, he has never missed a hiking trip with me in 5 years. It is all about control of your dog. Whether voice control or a leash, whatever is necessary. The existing dog leash law in the state of New York already demands this. It is completely irresponsible, whether your dog is nice or not, to allow it in any way at any time to run up to, jump on strangers. My dog was trained since day one to do exactly what I ask of him while on the trail, he has never once approached oncoming hikers. But over and over again others dogs come flying out of nowhere to try to get all over me and him. This is totally innappropriate as neither he nor I want a strangers dog jumping on us. I am a dog lover, I’ve never been afraid of any dog…but I still do not want this happening. There are women, children, older hikers on the trail, injuries are a real possibility. All this being said, the emphasis of responsibility regarding dogs must be that you must know the relationship you have with your dog, if it will not respect your authority, control, then leash your dog or establish respect. As a dog owner I know it is much more difficult to hike, climb with a leashed dog. And a a responsible hiking dog owner I will never stand by and allow the push for punishment of responsibility with an less than well thought out rule of “all dogs must be leashed”. People will never obey, myself included.

  17. "Mountain Man" John says:

    Pete, very good article. As someone who’s done much trail work with the ADK and ADK46ers, I’ll comment on the issue of trail erosion and going off-trail to avoid mud + water. I agree to a great extent that such off-trailing should be avoided. Mud and watery sections of of trails are ubiquitous in the ADKs, but I’ve seen trails widen-out because of walk-arounds. I will admit that on few occasions I’ve walked around because there was a “lake” of water on the trail deep enough to get my boots water-logged. There are sections of trails which need to be evaluated by the DEC for having plank-bridges put in to lessen the chances of walk-arounds, as was done across the mud-bogs from the Algonquin-Boundary col to Iroquois. Those were established in the spirit of preventing erosion.

    On greeting, most hikers I meet are pretty cordial and will say “Hi” in response. You will always get a few grumpies.

    Hmm, interesting points on yielding to downhill hikers! The arguments have merit

  18. Charlie S says:

    Pete says: “I will not hide my dismay with our growing self-indulgent, self-oriented, narcissistic culture.”

    I’m with you on this one Pete! As for Michael, Jim Fox, John L. bugging out on you…don’t let them dampen your spirits. If they weigh you by just a few spontaneous lines in this one piece after all of your other commendable writing then that is a bit shallow i’d say. So be it.
    That’s what we do Pete… we judge others by taking a mere portion of him or her instead of looking at the whole person.None of us are perfect and i’ll be the first to fess up to that.So long as you’re not out hurting others or being wreckless towards the earth you’re alright in my book.

  19. Charlie S says:

    adirondackjoe says: “i hope no one comes and throws rocks at my house for suggesting this, but what about charging for a hiking license?”

    Let me cite just one example that just might bring some merit to Joe’s suggestion. Where I used to live there was a park I would visit frequently.When I went back to this place a few years ago I visited this park with my little girl to find there was a booth at the entry with a man taking admission fees ($1.00). It used to be free! My initial response was like John L’s. Then the man in the booth told me that since they started charging fees to get into this park there had been less problems,less riff raff,less people who have no regard for any body or thing in the world.I immediately was open to a fee to enter a park.What’s a dollar or two anyway,especially if it goes towards maintaining a trail or whatever public good it would create?

    • Ning DelBarco says:

      Some people don’t have a dollar or two. They should be able to enjoy the park anyway. The problem is that one can’t assume that people without a dollar are going to be the messy ones and that the people with dollars are going to be pristine.

      The was a park where a guy set up a booth and started collecting dollars. When he retired (decided to quit,) he had stolen a small fortune from the people who never questioned it. The park was supposed to be free.

  20. When I’m hiking uphill, I yield to downhill hikers… because I appreciate any opportunity to stop and catch my breath!

  21. Ed says:

    I actually had to think a bit before deciding what I thought about your post. I eventually determined that I’m in agreement with many of your positions, especially those that involve situational awareness to the basic civility we should extend to others. That said, the “tone” of your post made me think you’re probably not the type a person I’d want to encounter on the trail. Condescending and arrogant. As for dogs, my dog goes without leash and will continue to do so since he isn’t a threat to anyone and stays close. If that offends you…too bad. It’s a big park, go somewhere else. It’s not YOUR park and nobody elected you trail Natzi. As for decending, i believe the rule in XC skiing is that the decending skier has right of way because they have less control. Not sure if the same logic would apply for hiking but it’s worth consideration.

    • John Warren says:

      “Dogs must be leashed in the Eastern Zone of the High Peaks when on trails, at primitive tent sites, at lean-to sites, everywhere above 4,000 feet, or at other areas where the public congregates.” – DEC

  22. Buff Rodman says:

    Pretty good article. I agree with most of it. It seems that with so many more people getting out on the trail, it has become more and more difficult to get the etiquette info disseminated. I don’t know how it happens now – it is just something I had hammered into me as a kid by my parents. I am quite sure I would not have survived to adulthood if my parents had seen me litter!! (that is “tongue-in-cheek” for all you literal types.)

    I do disagree with your yielding on slopes argument. First off, yielding to those going uphill has been the norm for so long, that you would be talking about re-educating everyone, not just teaching new hikers. Pretty tall order, and I would anticipate it to create more strife between parties than peace. Lots of people going uphill have the expectation of downhillers making way. Second, going downhill being harder to control as an argument is horse-hooey. It is incumbent upon you to be under control no matter where you are walking. Slow down if you are having trouble. Next, people going uphill tend to be looking down at their feet (or just plain bent over) and often won’t see or hear people approaching from above. Yeah – older people who don’t hear as well do still get out and hike. Also, if you want people to pick appropriate spots to get out of the way for passing, it’s the people going downhill that will see uphill hikers first, have a better view of the trail below them, and be able to pick from more spots. And personally, when I am slogging my way up a long uphill, I do find it much harder to break rhythm, get out of the way, and stop than I do when traveling downhill. But that’s just me.

  23. adirondackjoe says:

    if they charged a fee for a hiking license i would buy one. anyone else?

  24. Sarah says:

    I have to agree with Ed and many other posters above- regaress of whether you’re correct in every trail etiquette position you’ve taken, you’re don’t seem like a hiker I’d like to encounter on the trail. They’re not your private mountains, you should lighten up, relax and enjoy your experience, and stop trying to find faults in the rest of us. We thrive on making trail friends, some for the day and some lasting, and don’t let a text notification ruin this; one of the greatest things about outdoor adventure is the comraderie. Go right ahead and have heated arguments about a hiker’s right of way, but it’d be both fruitless and entirely pointless- do you like to get worked up over trivial things in life? Sheesh….besides, the conditions and positioning of the hiker/s on various trails, as well as group size as you mention, determine at that time what would make the most sense concerning right of way, in my opinion, there is no correct etiquette, just being mindful, aware, polite and friendly. Make new friends that you can share brief and meaningful experiences with. Seems a better alternative than what you’re experiences must be like.

    • Bill says:

      Yes, we do not need more rules. However, brochures at trail-heads with pointers would helpful, if not better than tons of more signs.

  25. Jim S. says:

    It seems people more more courteous on trails than on the internet

  26. Greg says:

    I agree on most points, but some points:

    1.) Why “Silence electronic devices and/or use headphones
    Minimize noise; consider your voice level”? I agree with the setiment, but I think people are taking this too far, particulalry with the hatred of phones. Everyone experiences the backwoods differently, respect that. Large groups will be loud. Popular peaks will be loud. If you want a scilent wilderness expience, then you probably should not be hiking the popular mountains or on the standard mountains.

    I usually make calls and write emails (business) from the summits becuase that is the only place I get a signal. Can the calls wait…sometimes yes, sometimes no. I will not come do it immediately next to you, but if walk up on me, don’t expect me to hang up.

    2.) I like the yield to uphill hikers rule, dispite that it sounds backwards at first glance. After hiking with a group of new hikers this weekend, some were tired enough that fast-moving hikers would not have given them enough time to move out of the way safely. Regardless, nobody knows the rules, much less follows them – I always offer to yield up and down when leading.

    3.) Bathroom area grows only linearly with distance from trail. Consider the trail a straight line, 100 feet left/right forms a rectangle. As width increses, the area grows lineraly. It would be quadratically from a point (such as campsite) from A=PI r^2. Regardless, I hate seeing TP in the woods, particularly from the trail.

    4.) I think some of us experienced hikers need to lighten up on excluding others. The trails of ADKs are hardly virgin wilderness – most popular trials are more like highways.

    5.) Trash is something everyone yells about, but like said above I have never seen someone purposly litter. A fellow hiker unknowingly lost a wrapper this weekend out of his pocket – which was picked up by the following hiker. I think we ALL litter more than we think – dispte our best efforts to prevent it. The key is picking up more than you lose so the trails stay clean.

  27. Pete Nelson says:

    Quite the discussion once again. Thank you to all.

    That said, some of you might be taking tone – mine and each-others’ – just a little too seriously. It’s not really that serious an issue, is it? The NYCO Amendment is a serious issue, for one example.

    Dan Crane:

    I agree with you about off trail, but you already knew that. I disagree about the effect of skirting mud. I think the growing width of trails, the mini (and sometimes not-so-mini) streamlets that develop and the accelerating erosion are self-evident throughout the park, as is the dramatic difference one finds on a well-built or rebuilt trail. The effect of all that runoff can be quite dramatic downstream as well, though that gets less well noticed.

    In my experience the damage from a badly eroded trail takes longer to recover than the effects of logging. The network of roads and trails east of the road to Upper Works many of which date back 150 years, tell that story well.

    I don’t think this is High-Peaks-centric thinking at all. It’s just that those trails get more notice. But trails in lower elevations, especially those in and about wetlands are subject to a disproportionate effect. I’m happily thinking about multiple sections of the NPT, lots of trails between Indian lake and Blue Mountain Lake and a number of trails in the Lake Pleasant area that look like a rugby match just concluded.

    In any case, it seems to me that care on the trail is not so hard to practice that it should engender so much controversy.

    Once again, thanks for all the comments.

    • Paul says:

      Given all these trail erosion issues I think in places like the High Peaks “Wilderness” it may be time to think about how this area is managed. I don’t think that trying to get folks to walk through the mud is really a sound management strategy. If you can’t (or people wont) limit their use of the area and the negative impact you have to manage the area based on its use level.

      I would make the sacrilegious (at least to many on this forum) suggestion that this area be re-classified to allow the trails to be properly maintained so that trail workers can bring in materials like mulch and/or wood chips (sourced locally of course to avoid invasives) and/or other fill necessary to prevent erosion with this much use and activity.

      It is either that or limit the use. The alternative is to continue to wreck the place like is going on now.

      • Dave Mason says:

        I went to a remote park in southern Chile last winter. The use the term ‘wilderness’ to describe areas that are off-limits except for special permits. But inside the ‘wilderness’ there are trail corridors – called ‘human use corridors”. These are similar to high use trails here, but you are not permitted to go off wandering in the wilderness.

        Camping areas are restricted. In the back country, they set up tent villages in a few areas, with proper tents, some kind of bathroom, and you can reserve tent space long in advance. So the number of overnight visitors is limited this way. I believe the tent compounds are run as a seasonally licensed franchise. If it isn’t well run, they get another company to do it the next year. They aren’t government employees.

        There are also fairly large areas when you are only permitted to go with guides who arrange the trip.

        They have had terrible fires, and that is what brought about the current rules. The region is one wilderness and park after another. It is a good 5 hours from an a regular airport. There isn’t any real town or village nearby. It has a very short season, and yet it attracts people from all around the globe.

        They also hand visitors a ‘how to behave here’ guide, that I’ll send Pete.

  28. Ning DelBarco says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention one of my pet peeves: brightly colored, particularly neon clothing. Who wants to look around and see blobs of unnatural colors appearing in the viewscape? Not me. Wear camo.

  29. Adirondack Trail Etiquette » Upper Saranac Lake Association says:

    […] Read Article […]

  30. Mary Taitt says:

    Excellent article. I wish EVERYONE would read it!

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