Moving on from the Adirondack High Peaks
Over the past two years, there has been a lot of discussion about the issue of overuse in the High Peaks Wilderness. Articles and news reports have covered issues with congested trailhead parking lots, improper disposal of human waste, and an overworked ranger force responding to numerous rescues per day.
During this time I have been involved with a working group within the DEC to help brainstorm ideas on how to address this issue. I've also been involved in more direct advocacy through Adirondack Wilderness Advocates. All along, I've been contemplating my own relationship with the High Peaks and this specific issue.
From 2006 to 2014 I spent a lot of time in the High Peaks Wilderness, over 1,000 days to be more exact. I started my relationship with this place the way many others do, I was drawn to the appeal of hiking all 46 high peaks and being surrounded by their grandeur. Eventually, I found myself working as a Summit Steward, giving me the opportunity to be completely immersed in a place I love. From there, I moved on to running Johns Brook Lodge, for six years I spent up to 200 days of each year living at a place surrounded by the High Peaks. It's a place I love and my experiences there shaped who I am today and how I view the world.
As I reflect on the overuse issue I begin to wonder what role I might have played in creating it. I've shared hundreds of images of the High Peaks online over the years, both through my photography social media accounts and while I worked for the Adirondack Mountain Club through theirs. I wonder how many people were drawn there because of those images and posts. I also wonder if I did enough to promote a message of responsible recreation and stewardship so that people discovering the High Peaks for the first time were aware of the principles of Leave No Trace.
Three Things We Should All Be Doing To Help Address Overuse Issues
Here are a few suggestions for things we can all do to help address these issues.
1. Be a good steward
This is the most important thing we all need to be doing. A particular location can accommodate larger numbers of visitors IF those visitors are being good stewards of that place. If you aren't familiar with the principles of Leave No Trace, brush up on them, or take a course. Make sure you know and follow the regulations for the area you are visiting. And do your best to leave where ever you visit better than you found it. Finally, don't be afraid to kindly engage with follow hikers that may not be up to speed on LNT and other etiquette.
2. Consider refraining from posting
I know this sounds crazy, but sometimes it might be the best thing to do. If you are visiting an area that you know is facing challenges from overuse, sharing images from that place isn't going to help solve that problem. In fact, as usage numbers rise, managers are looking at ways to limit visitation. DEC recently announced a permitting system for the Blue Hole, a move that is likely necessary, but one that would be good to avoid elsewhere. These locations are well known, additional promotion only adds to a growing problem. Visit and enjoy these locations, but consider holding off on that Instagram post. If you do post, consider leaving out a description of the location. Let others enjoy the path of discovery that led you to that location. The journey to find and get there is a big part of the experience.
3. Educate with your posts
Back before social media and other online resources, people would use guidebooks and visitors centers to gather information about where to hike. These resources also included information about the difficulty of the hike, how to be prepared, and other educational information. Now it is our collective responsibility to do this. Wherever possible, when sharing content online, including a message of responsible recreation or stewardship. For instance, let people know that a particular slide climbing route should only be attempted with prior rock climbing experience. Or that when traveling above tree line to only walk on solid rock surfaces in order to protect the rare and fragile alpine plants. Together, we can permeate these messages into the broader online conversation around outdoor recreation and help move the culture into a more sustainable direction.
My Commitment for 2018: A Break From The High Peaks
After years of being immersed in the Adirondack High Peaks, having summited the 46 peaks over 250 times, and exploring many of the lesser-known corners of this beautiful place, I've decided its time for me to give it a break. There is so much more to the Adirondack Park than the High Peaks, it's not as if I will be at a loss for where to adventure and explore. I feel a personal responsibility to not be a part of the overuse problem in the High Peaks and that it's my turn to let others explore this magnificent place. I know that in some small way, the fact that my car isn't taking up a spot at a popular trailhead parking lot will help alleviate some of this problem. I know that my absence on a summit, no matter how insignificant that may seem, will provide someone else with a wilder experience.
I am also going to do my best to follow my suggestions above so that other areas of the Adirondack Park don't suffer the same fate as the High Peaks. So if you see more messages about LNT and stewardship, or wonder why I didn't share the location of a view, please understand why and try not to hold it against me.