Hiking the White Mountains: What You Can Do to Make It Pleasant for All

Hello out there in White Mountains Hiker Land! There are a lot of us getting out on the trails these days. The pandemic seems to have been a great introduction to hiking for a lot of folks seeking wide open, uncrowded places to decompress, and that's great. I've seen more people out revelling in and enjoying the mountains, but also more trash, more toilet paper and more folks practicing poor trail etiquette. I'm not sure what it is that makes people leave their trash behind in public places (though I get the little, tiny corners of granola bar wrappers that just get away from us sometimes).

Toilet paper right beside the trail mystifies me a little more. Do you resist going off trail because it's brushy and tangly back there? Was it raining and the woods were drippy, wet, and unappealing? Fear of going off into the forest? It might be inconvenient, but the best practice is to go aways off trail to pee and bury your solid waste and paper. Many backpackers carry a small trowel for this purpose, but carving out a hole in the forest duff with a stick works just as well, and you won't be leaving your stained, smelly TP for the next hiker to see. Wouldn't you rather hike without passing a bunch of poo-covered TP out there?

I've also seen lots of people going off-trail above treeline. This has been both in person and by seeing photos on social media, including a few images of tents set up on open summits and ridges. When you go off trail in what's known as the alpine zone (above where trees grow), you're walking on rare plant species that only survive in a few spots here in New England. It's extremely hard for them to grow on these windblown summits, and a single human foot can set them back for years. Sleeping in a tent on top of and walking on patches of fragile alpine plants starts a chain reaction of their being crushed, eventually dying, and the soil beneath them being blown away. It's probably an amazing experience to sleep in the open on a mountain top, but here in the White Mountains it harms the landscape, plus it is forbidden by the Forest Service. Stick to the trails and walk on the rocks, please.

"Heart of the Alpine Zone," oil on panel.

What all of this comes down to is being a human that cares how this landscape looks and continues to look. If you yourself want to come back in ten years and see these beautiful mountains as you remember them, don't leave waste behind and trample the alpine zone. It sets a precedent that something like that is okay to do. There are no services here that come along and clean up after every hiker. If you actually love these mountains - if they make you feel alive, give you the challenge you need, make for the most fun you've ever had, provide peace and solitude - protect the resources that provide you with that joy.

I know very few people will see this, much less read the caption. Some might read a few sentences and get bored or feel it's a personal affront to their right to hike as they wish. The Inst/FB algorithm sure won't show it to those who need it (not having a soul or ethics of any kind, after all). But maybe just one person, who didn't know about one of these things will change or get behind this message. If you've made it this far, thanks for reading, and I hope you get everything you need out of your next hike.

This 9x12 inch oil on panel painting captures the magic of an early morning hike on Mount Lincoln, overlooking Mount Lafayette in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The painting depicts a sea of low clouds and fog surrounding the high peaks, creating a truly breathtaking scene. The painting is framed in a 14x17 inch gold-toned, wood frame and is signed by the artist. It is wired and ready to hang.