SHOW #54 February 28, 2015
This week on Episode 54 Smoky Mountains Radio, Leave No Trace, I Have the Right of Way!, and our first listener poll. Let’s Go!
It is Saturday, February 28, 2015 and this is Episode 54 of Smoky Mountains Radio. Welcome back to the show. As, always, I am your host Mike, and I am here to bring my nearly forty years of experience in and around the Smoky Mountains help you have the best possible time on your next trip to the Smokies. Whether you are staying in or around the Smokies, whether you plan to hike a nature trail or the Appalachian Trail, and whether you want to ride a go cart or a roller coaster, we have all the information you need right here to make your next trip a success.
I invite you to check out our website, SMR.com. There you will find a wealth of information including hikes from all over the Great Smoky Mountains including length, difficulty, and a short description of what you will see and and can expect as you hit the trails. If you are planning on staying in one of the surrounding towns, you can find information about those as well. You can contact me directly by emailing me at email@example.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/smokymountainsradio or on twitter @smokies_radio. You can also call the listener line at 865-325 9784. Finally, of course, every one of our shows can be found on the website for you to stream or download. Of course, you can make sure you get episodes the moment they are released by subscribing to the show via iTunes or stitcher. Leave me a review while you are there. Those links can also be found on SMR.com. If you have anything you would like me to cover on the show, please feel free to contact me at any time. Again, all the ways to reach me are right on the website at SmokyMountainsRadio.com
And now, let’s get on with the show.
Leave No Trace
Benny inspired our first segment of the show this week which is all about Leave No Trace. You might remember me railing against Laurel Falls a couple weeks ago. I mentioned bad hiker etiquette adding to the problems on that trail. But if you are an infrequent visitor to the mountains, you might not even know about these basic principles. There are seven Leave No Trace principals, and they apply not only to the Smoky Mountains, but any place that you decide to hike. Following these basic things keep the mountains beautiful and ensure that it is there to enjoy for you and others for generations to come. Some of these guidelines seem like common sense and you have heard me talk about them on numerous occasions in one form or another. If we all followed them, it would keep our wild places beautiful and thriving. Unfortunately, we don’t all do that. We often have the idea that if just I do something, it isn’t going to affect things that much. The problem is that hundreds, thousands, and millions of people visit the parks. It’s not just you, and if millions do things detrimental to the park, it has an enormous impact. Let me give you one example before we start.
I am a smoker. Hopefully that will be changing soon. Probably like some of you, I have quit….or tried to a hundred times over the years. But regardless, I am a smoker. Over the years when i’m headed down the interstate, I often didn’t think twice about throwing my cigarette butt out the window. Yeah, I know I shouldn’t do that. But when I am in the Smokies, that small act is magnified in my mind. If I flip that butt on the ground, it will remain there for up to hundreds of years waiting to decompose. And if the thousands and thousands of others did the same, not only are we hurting the environment, we are making it ugly for other visitors. That is not fair to anyone. So I don’t do it. If we are mindful of the impacts of our actions, perhaps we can keep the mountains beautiful for ourselves, our kids, our grandkids, and their grandkids.
So let’s get started with these basic principles. Number one is “Plan Ahead and Prepare.” You haven’t heard that from me before, have you? Planning and preparation is a vital part of any trip to the Smokies. I yap all the time about people that end up needing to be rescued from the mountains because of the simple fact that they did not plan ahead. What is the weather going to be like? What do I need to pack? What is my route? What should I expect on this trail? What are the regulations in the Smokies (hint…there are a lot of them)? But there is more than that. This step encourages you to plan to visit when there are not a ton of people to help minimize impact on trails when possible, package food in a way that you don’t end up with a ton of waste at the end, travel in smaller groups if you have a lot of people (again, to minimize trail impact), and carry a map or compass so you don’t lose your way. Most of that is pretty much common sense isn’t it? But a lot of folks either don’t think about it, don’t care to think about it, or are so ignorant about the mountains that they don’t do it. The other option is the type of person that I hate the most in the Smokies and every other park i’ve been to. This is the “I know I should do that, but I don’t care” crowd. I wish these folks would just go a deserted island for their trips.
Number two is “Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces.” This one is less obvious than the first, but makes perfect sense if you think about it. Camping in the Smokies is made easy. You can only set up camp in approved campsites. Even there, it is obvious where you must set up your tent. You don’t have other options. The problem is people that cowboy camp. When you decide to make your own campsite, you have to alter the environment to do it. This wears down the area, causes erosion, and effects the look and function of the area. Perhaps the worst example of this was a trip I took to Alum Cave Bluffs one morning. It was early, 5am, and I started on the hike to the Bluffs. I was at Arch Rock by 5:30, and I was on track to be at the Bluffs at sunrise (everyone should do this at least once). I reach the bluffs at sunrise as planned to find a couple of idiots that had their tent set up on the bluffs. They had made a fire there the night before and had their junk spread out all over the place. This ruined the experience for me, and literally left scars on the land. I was not a happy camper. Call me a snitch, I don’t care. When I saw a ranger when I made it to LeConte Lodge a couple hours later, I let him know those people were there. But back to the original point, camping in the Smokies ensures that you camp properly if you simply follow the rules set by the park. But there is actually more to it than that.
Traveling on durable surfaces is a little more tricky and one that we have all broken from time to time. When you are traveling with people, do you walk side by side? That’s a no-no. Why? It causes more erosion and deteriorates the areas around the established trail. Think about the most traveled trails in the park. Most of them are pretty wide these days. None of them started that way. People have worn them down over time. Not surprisingly, they are also the biggest erosion problem trails in the park. Here’s another part of this that I admit to breaking from time to time. What do you do when the trail is muddy or puddling. I bet you step around it. Yep, i’ve done that too, but we shouldn’t. It creates the same problems that walking side by side creates. This is one time it is a good thing to get muddy and stomp in some puddles.
Have you ever been walking on a trail and you are going through what seems like a pointless switchback? Of course. But if you look, you see another trail, a faint trail, but it is there, that goes directly through the switchback and not around. Well, that trail was made by people altering the trail. People walkthrough or bushwhack through areas to make the trail easier or more direct. This also has negative impacts. Once that trend starts, tons of people will start using the route and it makes a permanent scar. You also see this a lot on side trails in the park. There will be faint routes that lead to streams or overlooks that are not part of the official trails. Obviously all of these do impact the park, so unless you have to leave the trail to go to the bathroom, stay on the trail. Oh, and more about what to do if you have to do that in a second.
Number three….Dispose of Waste properly. Yep, here is the bathroom reference. At some point you are going to have to go to the bathroom on the trail, and it’s likely not going to happen in an area with real plumbing or even a privy. When that happens, it is off to the least glamorous thing about the mountains, and that is going to the bathroom in the woods. There are things that you need to do and consider when doing this, however. First, get away from the trail. At least 200 feet is what is recommended if you can. But you also need to be aware of what else is around you, do your business far away from streams as well. I kid you not, when hiking the Jakes Creek Trail I spotted a guy 20 feet off the trail literally peeing into the creek. Think about that the next time you fill up your water bottles. I don’t carry a gun into the park, but it is the one time I wish I had. What a moron. Now I know all of my listeners aren’t going to do something that stupid. After all, you are all a smart and sophisticated bunch of people. But try to stay a good distance from trails and water sources if you gotta go. If you gotta poop, that’s where it gets a little more complicated, and obviously gross. Now common, you all read the book Everybody Poops when you were a kid. There’s even an entire hiker’s book dedicated to the subject, entitled, please forgive the language “How to Shit in the Woods.” I honestly haven’t read it, but I find it hard to believe you can fill up hundreds of pages on the topic. Anyway, things to remember…First, dig a hole. Needs to be 6 to 8 inches deep. Thats gonna be your target. I have actually stepped in human feces in a camp before. Grossest experience i’ve had in the Smokies. Bury it. Help it decompose, and not draw the attention of animals or humans. It’s just nasty to do it any other way. You should also pack out toilet paper and feminine hygiene products. Yes, I know it sounds nasty. Carry extra Ziploc bags to pack it out. Please don’t bury it…or worse just leave it sitting out. The rule is, you pack it in, you pack it out. But that also goes for food and trash. Food decomposes naturally, yes, but you should not leave it in campsites. You will see this behavior in shelters all over the smokies. People leave trash in the fireplaces and fire pits, on picnic tables, and everywhere else. Or they try to burn it. No, no. Pack it in, pack it out. This is one of the big reasons that the worst bear caution areas in the park are nearly always at campsites and shelters. People are too lazy to pack out the leftover stuff that they packed in. The sad part is that it doesn’t affect the person who does it. It affects the guests after them. Keep it clean people. The last part of that is if you wash yourself or dishes, make sure you don’t do it in the water source. Soaps are generally bad for the outdoors and animals, so please use a biodegradable soap and don’t leave big puddles of soap behind. Throw water on it to scatter and dilute it. That is generally it for rule number three.
Number four is “Minimize Campfire Impacts.” The Smokies is very specific about where you can have campfires, so having any fire outside those areas will get you tossed out of the park and a nice hefty fine to remember your trip. The two big things I would stress about this is first, only use fallen wood laying around the area. Cutting down trees and branches is a no no, and that wood doesn’t burn well anyway. There is always an abundance of fallen branches in the Smokies. There is no need to cut anything down. Second, use a cooking stove instead of building a fire whenever possible. If you need the fire for heat…cool, go for it. If you are just heating up your pasta and hot dogs, use your stove. It’s easier by far and has much less impact. The biggest thing for me on this one is to put your fires out when you are done. I have walked into several campsites over the years with fires still smoldering. That could have some serious potential problems. We don’t want to do it. I think that one is completely common sense.
Number five. “Respect Wildlife.” You’ve heard me rant on this one before folks. Let me quote the first part of this guideline. “Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.” How many stores have you heard from me in the last year about dummies getting to close to bears, snakes, elk, and everything else? Wild——Life. The first part of that word is WILD. Getting close is just stupid. If you need a good picture of that bear that is a hundred yards away, buy a better camera that has good zoom functions. Otherwise, just stay back. In nearly forty years in the park, I have NEVER been chased by a bear, attacked by a bear, bitten by a snake, run down by wild hogs, leaped upon by a squirrel, bucked by an elk, or mauled by Big Foot. Sure, there may be a small amount of luck in that, but mostly is because I always keep my distance. Just check YouTube for animal encounters for idiots that got too close. Anyway.
Part two of this rule is not to feed wildlife. I see this more in the front country than in the backcountry, but it happens all over. Our food is way different than their food. It messes with their bodies and the ecosystem when we introduce them to it. It also teaches them that people have food. This can end up very dangerous and is a major reason that bears have to be put down. It makes me nuts. Because some idiot two years ago thought it would be funny to watch a bear eat snickers bars, now he has to be killed because he becomes agressive to people and wants their food. And the worst part, he doesn’t get aggressive to the original guy that gave him candy, it’s gonna to somebody like me that doesn’t want to give him anything. I’ve heard this said several ways over the years, but essentially the saying goes, “A fed bear, is a dead bear.” And you could use that for any animal in the park. I actually saw a photographer near Sugarlands Visitor Center once laying down gobs of peanut butter on the ground to entice an elk closer to him. He laid them out like breadcrumbs. It is the only time I have shouted profanities in the Smoky Mountains. Well, that and the time I fell in a creek. That is a whole other story.
The last part of this that pertains to us is to avoid wildlife at sensitive times. This includes mating season, just after offspring are born, or during periods of hibernation. If you want to see a normally docile animal get aggressive, mess with them during one of these times. I wouldn’t do it. But you have fun with that. If I see cubs anywhere near a trail, I freeze and look through the woods with a thousand yard stare looking for momma. I stay completely clear until they are gone. That is one of many reasons I am still in one piece today.
And that takes us to the final guideline of Leave No Trace, “Be Considerate of Other Visitors.” On several occasions you have heard me talk about something dealing with this seemingly little thing. Sadly, there are way too many people that think the experience they are having is the only one that matters. This is not unique to the Smokies. Everywhere I have been in the U.S. is this way. MY vacation, MY experience, MY memories, and the money MY family spent to be here trumps anything anyone else is doing. I honestly don’t know where this comes from, but I wish all of these people would stay in their homes. If you have noticed, they tend to complain all the time anyway. My wife and I see these folks a lot on our journeys to Disney World. They see a line that is an hour and a half long and start complaining to some cast member making minimum wage. “Do you know how much we spent on this vacation? Why do we have to stand in line?” Or in the middle of a dark ride, they take flash pictures even though there are signs posted at the ride not to, it is announced in three languages before the ride starts, and there is a placard on the ride vehicle saying not to. I try to laugh people like this off as much as possible, but I hate when it affects my experience, and especially the experience of someone who has never come before. This might be their one trip, and if it is negative just because of people, they may never come back. That is truly sad to me. So simply respect other peoples experience. This includes not playing loud music in the mountains, stepping off trail if you must use your cell phone, not yelling up and down the mountains. Yes, large families and college kids, i’m talking to you. Don’t litter and make somebody else’s experience less than it was for you. Simply Do as you’d have done… And if you don’t care and that doesn’t dissuade you at all, let me steer you towards a vacation in lovely Ukraine. I hear it is nice this time of year. Some of the guidelines seem more and more obvious the more time that you spend out here, but this one is so easy that it shouldn’t even have to be included. And the best news, you can apply it to everything else in life. Now i’m not telling you to get confrontational with somebody that doesn’t do this, but I have no problem calling them on it. I have asked people I have met coming down the mountain when i’m on the way up, “Which one of you is Tom? Which is Shirley? Who is Kelly? They seem dumfounded how I know their names. I say something like, it’s good to put the faces with the names i’ve been hearing the last 30 minutes. That usually does the trick. Or if the are too dumb, they don’t get it. Either way, its a funny moment. When somebody drops trash or leaves it on the trail, I will let them know they forgot it. If they do nothing I pick it up and put it in my pack. That usually guilts them enough to get it taken care of. If you are able to ignore it and still have a great time, more power to you. I think that’s great. I’ve just never learned that capability. Still, despite that I have yet to have a poor experience in the mountains. I’ve had cold, rainy, snowy, crowded, and injured experiences, but never a bad one. These simple guidelines will help make sure you, and everyone around you has a great trip to the Great Smoky Mountains.
I’ll put more information about this in the show notes and on SmokyMountainsRadio.com
Right of Way
It has probably happened to you dozens of times before. You are on a hike and meet someone coming your way from the opposite direction. What do you do? Who goes first? Who yields their spot? Who has the right of way? This always seem to be an issue, and unlike the rules of the road that specifically state who goes when, there really is no hard-fast rule about this in hiking. But instead of standing there looking at each other doing nothing, there are actually some guidelines that will help you with this.
First off, it is important to note that trails in the Smokies are made for hiking, horseback riding, bicycling, and even taking llamas to the top of a mountain. Some of these trails are multipurpose, while some of them are made for only one of those things. But here is the basic rundown.
Basically, give animals the right of way whenever you encounter them. Obviously they are less predictable than people….well, generally anyway, so move off to the side to let them pass when they are on trail. This goes for horses, llamas, or anything else you might encounter. Basic idea, if you play chicken with a horse on the trail, you will lose. Just a friendly reminder from your friend Mike here at Smoky Mountains Radio. If you are sharing a trail with a person on a bike, the hiker has the right of way. There are very few trails in the Smokies that allow both, so it shouldn’t be a problem, but just in case, the bike is supposed to get out of the way. I don’t tend to trust them, so I usually move just in case. If I get hike by a bike, i’m going to be hurting more than the bike, so that’s just my two cents. But technically, the hiker has the right of way.
When a hiker meets another hiker on the trails, it gets a little more murky. You are coming down the mountain and someone else is coming up. The pathway is only a couple of feet wide. What do you do? We have already said in our Leave No Trace principles that you shouldn’t try to simply walk past each other side by side like you were on a sidewalk. That erodes the area around the trail and is no good. And in a lot of places in the Smokies, the trail isn’t wide enough to do that anyway. So here it is. Generally speaking, the people walking downhill should yield to the people coming uphill. That is generally the harder hiking and the field of vision is smaller so it is best to give them the right of way. Find a safe place to step off the trail and let them pass. What you will run into is sometimes when you are going uphill, you see people coming down and decide it is the perfect time to take a break. I do this all the time. When I see people headed down, I often move off trail and motion them down. So, it’s not a set rule, but if you want to add to your overall hiker etiquette, that is the way to do it.
Another good rule of thumb is just to check the trail around you. If it is easier for you to step off trail than the person coming the opposite direction, move off. Sometimes the trail is wide enough to accommodate just one person. Stepping off before both of you have nowhere to go is always a good idea. If I see a stump or other thing I can sit and take a break off trail, I almost always take that opportunity for a breather unless I am really in a good hiking rhythm.
The other situation that you will often run into on the trails is really slow people. You have either encountered them or you are one. It’s not a bad thing, but it is good to know who should get the right of way in those instances. The usual slow people are folks with smaller kids in their group. That is completely understandable, of course. But sometimes the “ownership” mentality of the trail comes into play and they feel like they can keep you going at their pace. That’s no good. It’s a lot like the roads of the Smokies. There are pull-offs all over the park to allow slower drivers to pull off and let people pass. This is especially important given the fact that you are not going to find any 4 lane highways in the Smoky Mountains. So be mindful of the other folks out there.
The other slow people are the ones I call picture fanatics. They have to have a photo of every overlook, stream, flower, trail sign, and building on the trails. And that doesn’t include the dozens of pictures they have to take of their hiking party along the way. Again, I have no problem with this at all. To each their own. Hike your own hike. It doesn’t bother me until it affects my hike and other’s hikes. If either of these situations occur, just move your entire party off to the side of the trail and let faster hikers pass everyone. This was a problem for us just a couple years ago coming down from Charlie’s Bunion.
My wife and I cover a typical hiking pace of between 2 and 2.5 miles an hour. This family of 9 was moving excruciatingly slow. They were hiking about two across so passing was not happening. They were also spread out about 500 yards down the trail. When we were finally able to get passed a couple of them, we ended up behind the next couple of people. It took forever to get passed this loud and inconsiderate group of hikers. The polite thing to do would have been to just let us get by. Instead it took us an eternity and took away from our experience. That shouldn’t happen.
I hike at a pretty good clip, but there are plenty of people that are much faster. If I hear them coming up behind me, I just stop to the side and give them room to go. This works out better for everyone anyway. I put enough distance between us that my wilderness experience is not impeded by other people. By just stepping aside and waiting, I have my mountain experience to myself once again. It is common sense perhaps, but in this instance, everybody wins.
However you end up doing it, just be courteous to the other hikers around you and everyone will have a wonderful time.
I’ll put more info about this in our show notes and on Smoky Mountains radio.com
Before we start wrapping up, I got a really good suggestion from listener Curt this week about a Facebook poll. I thought it was a great idea, so we will do our first one. By the way Curt, I absolutely laughed out loud at the best t-shirt shop idea. Love it. I have actually thought about doing a live review of tshirt shops almost as a spoof for the show. Maybe a touring plan to hit every t-shirt shop in the Smokies in one day. Oh, the horror. Can you imagine? Anyway, our poll topic for this week is going to be about hiking. What do you look for when choosing a hike? Is it views and overlooks? Waterfalls? History? Trees and Flowers? Or is it something else? Well, you have the chance to be heard this week and we will go over the results in the next show. So get over to the Smoky Mountains Radio Facebook page and vote. Thanks for the suggestion Curt, and of course, thank you for listening.
Man! The snow just won’t subside. It looked like it was finally going away only to come back with a vengeance. As usual when this happens, many park roads have been closed. They have been opening and closing frequently over the last couple of weeks. It looks like perhaps…just perhaps…it may be finally coming to an end. In it’s place, the trails are going to be very muddy for at least the next month. So before you get out there, be sure to make sure you have good footwear, and perhaps a set of gaiters. Yeah, I ran out of time for the Hike of the Week this week, but you have forty from previous shows to choose from. Have you done all of those yet? Get to it! You can also find more hikes on the website at SmokyMountainsRadio.com Be sure to check that out. So until next time, more than half of the roads in the Smokies are now open, so GO TAKE A HIKE!!!
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