Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Designated sites in the backcountry

"Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, drink the wild air." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Another thing I have come across here in Washington that is different from where I worked this summer in California is designated camp sites within Wilderness. There are a few areas in Indian Heaven Wilderness that are so highly visited, Wilderness management has decided to ask people to only camp in designated sites. At the trailhead there is information posted as well as little leaflets you can take telling you about this system:
Areas are sometimes visited so much that they get loved to death. This site designation system helps concentrate human impact on areas that are less sensitive (ie away from the lake shore) and already impacted to limit new impacts. It makes cleanup (less fire rings to knock down because folks use the ones at the sites!) and patrolling easier for the rangers because we know where to find people. Unlike the developed recreation sites (aka car camping sites) these sites in Wilderness are spread out and quite far from each other so you can still have that sense of solitude.

There are markers pointing you towards the site and markers at the sites themselves as well as some signs posted at areas where people have camped in the past that are not appropriate locations... so there's no question or confusion where you should be:

You don't sign up or have to pay for these sites, you just hike around and find one that is open and suits you!

Hiking in this area has really made me appreciate how easy it is to find a spot to camp in the eastern Sierra Nevada. The vegetation is so sparse and wide open, the easy to navigate granite is so inviting, that heading off trail to find a spot is generally a breeze. Here in the areas around the Columbia River Gorge, the vegetation is very dense and many of the trails are along steep hills where there's nowhere to camp. The red arrow in this photo shows where the trail is (photo is from Trapper Creek Wilderness, one of the Wilderness areas I have been patrolling here in Washington)....look at all that underbrush where in the world could you pitch a tent in terrain like that?!:

The idea of traveling off-trail here is daunting. I've noticed that places people set up camp in the backcountry here is often very close to the trail and obviously very well used....because there's just not as many places to easily camp here!