“This curious world we inhabit is more wonderful than convenient; more beautiful than useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used.”
My endeavour here is not to inspire, but to simply share the means by which one can follow eco-trekking practices. It is not as 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. Paying attention to even small things can contribute to much cleaner trails and water-bodies.
Disposing trash on a trek
To begin with, know that what you discard away irresponsibly while you are on a trek has a direct effect on the trail. Everything you discard is simply a pollutant. This is left behind and makes the trail unclean.
Separate the waste
Separating degradable and non-degradable waste is always a good idea. Since you are not always going to find a waste disposal mechanism on trekking trails, you have to take the initiative of carrying your trash to the nearest camp site, lodge or hotel.
You can always dig a pit at your campsite to bury biodegradable waste. If you’re trekking with an agency, ask the staff to do it for you and monitor if they are doing it right. Carrying extra bags to carry non-biodegradable items with you is a good idea.
The segregation begins by keeping all the plastic materials, aluminium cans, used batteries, foils and bottles 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.
When you are trekking with a team designate a spot where you can set up bags to discard any waste. Ask other members of your team to put their trash there. The collected waste can then be moved at the time when you are moving out of the campsite.
In order to discourage littering set a fine for those who are found guilty. I found putting a fine a good way to encourage keeping the trail litter free. I practiced it myself on treks I did with large teams. The money collected could be used to tip your porters or local guide at the end of the trek.
Staying clean and fresh on a trek
Showers are not available at campsites. You may get an opportunity to take a bath in a stream or a lake. It is only sensible to not use soap or shampoo while doing so. It will only contaminate the water. People passing through the trail will be drinking the same water. In fact, when you’re trekking even you will be drinking the same water.
Tips to stay clean when you can’t take a bath
- Remove your shoes and socks at least once a day. It will allow your feet to breathe. Keeping your shoes on throughout the trek could cause a foot fungus called athlete’s foot to flare. This could occur due to your feet being moist for a long period of time. Changing your socks every day is also a good way to avoid athlete’s foot.
- Keep your toenails clipped flat instead of keeping them rounded. This will help avoid your toes and toenails from being jammed in your shoes.
- Using a mouthwash will kill any bacteria in the mouth when you cannot brush for more than a day.
- Organic soap that doubles up as a face wash will keep you clean.
- You could bring more pairs of clean undergarments and change every day to ensure good personal hygiene.
- You can use biodegradable paper instead of using leaves which are more likely to cause serious infections or diseases.
Staying clean while relieving yourself
- Urinate at least three hundred feet away from the campsite and far away from the water source.
- Feces need to be dumped in a hole and buried to ensure wild animals stay away from the camp.
- Using biodegradable toilet paper is best. In order to keep odour away it has to be buried after use.
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 rain displaces it.
Why using industrial fuel for cooking is a better alternative to wood
Using wood for cooking puts pressure on the existing forest reserves and accelerates deforestation. It also takes away the fuel that locals use. They have no other alternatives. It is advisable to explore the option of using kerosene or gas with fuel efficient stoves. If you invest in an efficient and light backpacking stove from abroad, it can work on a more convenient fuel, i.e. kerosene, and it is less susceptible to leakage and breakdown.
Campfires and nature
This is a tricky question and not an easy one to address. A trekking experience is considered incomplete if a camp fire is not provided. In many of the treks I have been on I have seen people demanding for a camp fire not just for the warmth but for sitting around. It seems to be an integral part of the whole camping experience.
There are two issues that are linked with setting up a camp fire. First is that the arrangement of wood may require you to chop down branches of trees contributing to deforestation. For instance in 2001 the local authorities in the National Park of Mt. Kilimanjaro banned the use of wood for cooking or for setting up a bonfire. This was done because it resulted in wiping out most of the forest cover in that region. Knowing that a tree takes longer to grow and reach an age of maturity in the higher regions of Himalayas. A re-planting initiative will take decades to show any kind of progress. Wear warm clothing and do not insist on bonfires unless the cold is unbearable.
The second issue is the inadequate knowledge on starting camp fires and not knowing how to control it. This can result in forest fires. It is always advisable for an experienced person to handle camp fires.
How to purify drinking water
Having purification tablets is a good option to filter water because you will not always have the time to boil your water. They are small, cheap and light to carry. Even if you intend to boil water, you may need purification tablets in the event of an emergency. The water once purified may still taste of chemicals. You could try putting oral re-hydration salts into the water which will improve the flavour and keep you hydrated.
Always carry two reusable water bottles so that you always have one bottle to drink from, while the water in your other bottle is being purified.
You can avoid buying water while trekking. Make use of the abundance of water sources on the trail.
Buying water bottles will only add to your collection of plastic non-biodegradable waste. Normally, the locals just throw it in the river or burn it, both of which are harmful to the environment.
Remember, your initiative does make a difference.