I went on my favorite hike a few weeks ago and noticed a significant amount of litter leftover from the snowmelt after the ski season in Snowmass. I thought, I should have brought a trash bag to grab all this stuff. I went on the same hike a few days ago, and this time, I brought a trash bag. Nothing too big, just a leftover grocery bag. I kept my eyes peeled for the entire hike, and I loved the feeling I had on the mountain. This hike was no longer about getting to the top; this hike wasn’t about the exercise. This hike was no longer about me at all. This hike was about something bigger and more important and I got lost in that feeling.
The first part of the hike was near the main village and it was very well-maintained, which meant YAY NO LITTER!!! But as we got towards the top and into the trees, I found pieces of trash that I couldn’t believe people would be so thoughtless as to leave behind. I found a hubcap, a Tupperware, a Franzia box, and countless paper plates. I collected over a dozen water bottles and snack wrappers. Suddenly, I started following the trash instead of my hiking path.
A lot of times, the trash led me lower down the mountain instead of higher up it. This was frustrating but exhilarating. Once I saw a piece, I couldn’t let it lay there. With this bag strapped to me I had adopted the responsibility of taking with me any trash on that hill. I started to get very frustrated as we neared the mountain restaurant and the pieces of trash got bigger. My bag was getting stuffed full and I was running out of overflow room in my pack. My dad was with me and he kept saying, “Megs, you can’t get it all. Its okay honey, you won’t be able to get it all.” As he kept repeating this phrase I kept chasing every piece that I could, stuffing it as small as I could into the bag. I could feel that little ball of rage in my belly growing. I was angry at the abuse, the ignorance, and the tainted beauty. Mostly I was enraged because I knew my dad was right. I knew that there were pieces I would have to leave behind because I couldn’t carry everything.
I broke down. I wasn’t sure what had come over me but I just started crying in the trees on top of Snowmass Mountain. While my dad hugged me I opened my teary eyes over his shoulder only to see more trash in my vision. My chest felt tight and I felt weak. I felt heartbroken and vulnerable, but it empowered me. I wiped my eyes and walked over to that piece of trash and I grabbed it. I stuffed it where I could and I rearranged some stuff in my bag. As we turned to walk down, I calculated which things I could grab, and I made peace with the fact with there were things that I couldn’t grab. Mostly, I made plans to come back up. Time, and time again. Until there wouldn’t be trash left behind.
Now, I keep a garbage bag in my hiking pack. Even though most recreational trails are well maintained, many people abuse our beautiful mountains. People like us have to take a stand against that abuse and keep our environment clean and natural. As a Camp Counselor in the Roaring Fork Valley near Aspen, I am planning a day to take all my campers up on Snowmass Mountain to do exactly what I did, because 20 hands can accomplish much more than 2.
We all should play outside, but with care. For more information on how you can help Momma Earth while playing in her beautiful hills and trees, check out Leave No Trace at lnt.org, CleanTrails.org, and look at local recreational listings for cleanup days in your area. And most importantly, keep a trash bag in your hiking pack!!! Clip it to the side so you can fill it easily and it won’t be a nuisance on even the hardest of hikes. We can all do our part, while having unforgettable adventures.