For the Love of 14ers, Pack It Out!

The 14ers we guide at Colorado Adventure Guides strike both guides and guests with their beauty. No matter how many times you’ve been on the summit of Quandary Peak, the 360-degree view of the Tenmile, Mosquito, Elk, Gore, Sawatch, and Front ranges never disappoints. But as spectacular as the summit experience is, the increasing incidence of trash on the mountain is equally unspectacular. Sadly, many uninformed hikers leave trash behind unknowingly. Here at CAG, we ask our guests and fellow hikers to embrace the Leave No Trace principle of “Pack it in, pack it out” for the sake of the special places we all love to explore. 

A topic close to our hearts is the issue of those ever-popular handmade summit signs. Please remember that a piece of cardboard or paper is trash, regardless of whether or not someone has inscribed it with a peak’s name and elevation. When a hiker tucks their sign between two rocks on the summit, intending to gift it to the next person who wants a summit photo with the sign, that hiker is actually littering. Just like beef jerky wrappers, hand warmers, and energy gel packets, cardboard left on the mountain is trash, and our mountains are special places worth protecting, not landfills. Pack out your cardboard signs, and if you must share your sign with other hikers, explain to them the importance of packing it out when you pass it along. 

CAG guide Emily brought this laminated paper sign down from the summit of Quandary last week. Its environmental impact equates to leaving a plastic grocery bag or plastic water bottles on the summit. Sidenote: the sign is also spelled wrong.

We also commonly find so-called “micro trash” on our local peaks. These pieces of trash, usually the small pieces of food wrappers that must be torn off to open the package, are easy to accidentally drop. But next time you tear off the corner of your granola bar wrapper, keep in mind that remote trail counters placed by the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative counted 24,000 users on Quandary Peak in 2017. A tiny piece of trash left behind by every user means 24,000 tiny pieces of plastic end up in our waterways. It’s easy for micro trash to fall out of a pocket, so put it inside a sealable bag or container where it can’t fall out again. Another great way to keep bits of food wrappers off the trail: tuck torn-off pieces inside the empty wrapper, and tie a knot in it. The knot both secures the small pieces and makes the empty wrapper bulkier (and harder to accidentally drop or blow away in the wind).

the micro trash haul from a one-mile stretch of trail on a recent guided outing

Remember, there’s no maid on a 14er, but there is a landowner who is responsible for a 14er’s care: you (and me). When you hike on publicly-owned land, like a 14er trail on your U.S. National Forest, you’re using land owned by all Americans. Help us take care of the places we love by packing out all trash.