Some hikes are just plain crappy. Literally.
The hike started out like any other – a grueling ascent. It was June in Alsace, and the sun was beating down with all its might. But the trail was empty and quiet. I was hiking to Hohneck, one of the most popular summits in the Vosges Mountains. Its 360-degree unobstructed views were said to be magnificent. And I was impatient to see them for myself.
After a long 50 minutes, I was at the summit of the first ascent. The views were not spectacular, but I needed a break before tackling the next climb. There were a few picnic tables and a handful of small cabins. I took a seat in the shade and ate my lunch. Not long after, families, day hikers, and vacation goers flooded the area. And just like that my blissful solitude ended.
I finished eating and scoped out the route. From my shaded paradise, I could see the next section of the trail and it was straight up.
“That can’t be right. It’s nearly vertical!” I thought to myself.
I checked my GPS, and, sure enough, that was it.
I put my trash back in my bag, drank some water, and followed my GPS to its suggested route.
Luckily, this time, my GPS was wrong. The actual trail veered to the left around the vertical ascent. It was going to add an extra 30 minutes to my hike, but at least I didn’t have to scale a mountain.
So, I carried on. The weight of my gear felt heavier in the summer’s heat, but I was excited to see this epic view everyone was raving about.
Up and up and up the trail went. Hohneck was certainly not the tallest mountain I’ve climbed. It was only 1363 meters (4471 ft.), but the incline was steep. And, to make matters worse, the higher I climbed the more people I saw.
“Where did all these people come from?” I asked myself.
At one point the trail became so crowded there was a queue. Children were crying, people were yelling, and there were a few teenagers playing music from their phones.
This was not the hike I had imagined.
After 2 hours, I was finally at the summit of Hohneck, and it was packed! Not only that but most of the summit had been paved over to make way for an ugly parking lot and an ‘authentic’ restaurant. So, the 360-degree panoramic views that I was waiting for were actually nonexistent.
“At least it explains where all the people came from,” I said to myself.
Of course, I had not expected a completely empty trail, but this was ridiculous. And the amount of noise was offensive. I was in the middle of the mountains and car engines were more prevalent than birds.
I took a few pictures and continued to the campsite. I would be spending the night next to Lac de Longemer – a beautiful mountain lake with crystal clear water. I couldn’t wait to take a dip in the crisp alpine water and wash off the salty, sticky sweat that covered me.
As I made my way down the northwestern side of Hohneck, the crowd thinned and I was welcomed by my good friend, solitude. I re-entered the forest, and the coolness of the shade was a welcomed relief.
Not more than an hour after starting my descent, I came across a small object in the middle of the trail. From a distance, I could see flies swarming it like they would a dead animal.
“Maybe a bird fell from a tree.” I thought to myself.
As I walked closer, I saw a white piece of something trailing from the center and flailing around. I couldn’t see it, but I could smell it. It was a familiar smell that instantly gave away its identity. This was no dead animal. No. This was poop.
That’s right. Poop.
Someone, not long before I arrived, had taken a massive dump ON THE TRAIL. And, as a bonus, they left a trail of toilet paper covered in it.
Completely disgusted, I backed away and tried to find an alternative path. But there was none. My only choice was to hop over and hope that I didn’t touch IT or the toilet paper.
I held my breath and took a running start.
My bag was heavy, but I leaped like an Olympic athlete trying to win a gold medal. And once I was at a safe distance, I gasped for fresh poop-free air.
Half of me was pissed-off while the other half was utterly grossed-out.
Hiking, for me at least, is a chance to reconnect with nature and the outdoors. It’s an escape from the ordinary and where I go to clear my mind. Apparently, not everyone shared my sentiments.
I reached the campsite as the sun began to set. I was so exhausted and disappointed that I decided not to swim. Instead, I laid in my tent and looked for a different route home. I was initially planning to summit Hohneck a second time to watch the sunrise, but the trail had been so disgusting I couldn’t hike it again.
The next morning, I began my journey home. It was much longer, but it gave me time to reflect and think about the concept of Leave No Trace. It seems to be a popular buzzword that everyone says, but not everyone follows. Even me, I have it on my hiking tips post. But I realized I could do better. I could and should carry everything out, even if there are trash bins. And I should try toilet paper-free options to reduce waste associated with human excrement.
My newfound revelations rejuvenated my depressed spirit. It was the first time I had been adversely affected by someone else’s poor hiking choices. And I wanted to contribute to making a difference.
As hikers, travelers, and admirers of nature we are responsible for the environment. What we leave behind affects animals, other hikers, and the environment itself. If we don’t try now, soon we won’t have something to try for. So, today, ask yourself if there is something you can do to make a difference.
I was/am motivated to do better!
My determination put a pep in my step, and I arrived at the train station earlier than I had planned. The trail had been more enjoyable, and not because there were fewer people and less poop. But it was clear that this route had been respected, as all trails should.
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Read More Hiking Stories
Hope you enjoyed my post about the impact of not following the leave no trace principles. Here are some other hiking posts that I think you might find interesting.
- McAfee Knob – The Beginning of a New Adventure
- Maragua Crater: Hiking Among Dinosaurs
- Getting Lost in Kyrgyzstan: Hike to Song Kol
What are your thoughts on the leave no trace principles? Send me a message in the comments below!
Interested in more hiking tips? Check out my other posts for more hiking tips.