Hiking and Walking at Higher Altitudes
When walking or hiking in steep higher level areas, additional thought and care is required so that you do not cause damage to the fragile habitats and environments found there. Over time, slow growing grasses and other vegetation can become compacted by feet and worn away. Rain may then wash the exposed soil down the steep slopes to the valleys below where it may be washed into streams, ending up in lakes where the siltation causes havoc for fish and other species.
As well as those issues to consider when walking anywhere in the countryside (see the section on Walking, Hiking and Picnicking in the Countryside), there are additional points to bear in mind when hill walking at higher altitudes:
- Steep paths ‘zig zag’ because it is easier walking across a slope than straight up. Don’t shortcut a corner as it will cause erosion.
- Do not walk on scree slopes which provide an important, fragile ecological habitat
- Stay on the trail! Slow-growing mountain plants are particularly vulnerable to trampling. Walking along the side of worn paths will just widen them faster.
- Building new cairns, or stacking stones on top of each other, is not a great idea. They become large quite quickly and start to block paths. Paths need stones more than cairns, not to mention all the tiny creatures that make their homes under the stones…
- Don’t take shortcuts. Water will soon follow your tracks and an erosion scar will form.
- If you are using walking poles, ensure that they have rubber tips on their ends to avoid damaging rocky surfaces.
- Peat and vegetation which grows in upland areas can become dry and flammable. Accidental fires destroy natural habitats and can kill animals and birds. Do not light fires on moorlands, and do not stub out cigarettes or matches in vegetation.
- Use a stove instead of a campfire at high altitudes. If you have to use wood to build a campfire, be very mindful that the wood will be slow to regenerate at higher levels so only use what is sustainable.
- Fences and walls are particularly expensive to repair at high levels so use gates, stiles and openings in field boundaries whenever they are available.
- When walking in winter reduce the erosion you cause by using crampons to walk on the ice covered paths, rather than avoiding them and walking on the, often boggy, ground to the sides.
The British Mountaineering Council has produced a ‘Green Guide to the Uplands’. This is obviously based very much on the specific laws and conditions in Britain. It’s ethos however is applicable when enjoying higher altitudes in any country. The guide gives comprehensive guidance on how to ensure that you minimise your impact on the environment while hill walking, climbing, scrambling, winter mountaineering, camping and skiing, and can be found HERE.
Other things you can do to respect mountainous environments you visit are:
- Book Smart: Travel out of season where possible. Book ski holicays, resorts, adventure packages etc based on their sustainable practices and ethics
- Travel Wise: Travel to your destination by train or bus, or car pool with friends. Once in the resort, travel by foot, or public transport
- Support Sustainable Practices: Use the services of organisations aware of and living up to their sustablility responsibilities. Buy locally produced food and goods
- Be respectful: Respect the mountains, the locals, the culture and other mountain users. Be a responsible mountain visitor
- RRR and U: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Upcycle (re invent the waste into something new of value) – even when on holiday!
- Spread the Word: Share your experiences and inspire, encourage and act as a good role model.