A while back I travelled 2,461km to the remote Kimberley region of north Western Australia to become a qualified Master Trainer of Leave No Trace.
As a keen adventurer working in the Outdoor Industry, I embraced this amazing and rare opportunity to soak up knowledge whilst walking on the oldest rock on earth. From this early experience, I’ve become a passionate advocate for LNT strategy and practices in the field—and gear that helps you to reduce your impact.
DAY ONE IN THE WUNAAMIN-MILIWUNDI RANGE
The afternoon light was turning as we arrived at our starting point. Despite the two and half-hour flight from Whadjuk Noongar country (Perth), followed by an uncomfortable hot, dusty, bumpy, five-hour drive along the Gibb River Road, I was feeling energised.
Our destination was somewhere within the massive expanse of country shared by the Ngarijin and Bunuba traditional landowners, the Wunaamin-Miliwundi Range. Our objective was simple—respect the country we were standing on by following the principles of Leave No Trace.
Image: David Summers
LEAVE NO TRACE PRINCIPLES
There are seven principles of Leave No Trace, they are:
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimise campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of your hosts and other visitors
Seems simple, right? It all seemed pretty straightforward to me on day one in the Kimberley. But when you’re held accountable for your every move over five days, it becomes considerably harder.
1. PLAN AHEAD AND PREPARE
For my part, preparing for my journey was simple—I packed my gear and got on the right plane. I hadn’t appreciated at the time the group logistics that were organised before we landed—starting with seeking permission from the traditional custodians and authorities to access the land. It’s always best to ask first.
Our instructors already planned for any unforeseen accidents and emergencies. Who can get us out and how? A five-hour drive or a chopper flight? They also asked authorities about any scheduled aerial burn-offs, which are carried out to reduce the impact of large-scale bushfires during the dry season. You don’t want to be caught in the middle of a fire due to poor planning.
I’ve also learnt from LNT experts—like Cameron Crowe, founder of Leave No Trace Australia, and David Summers, past Director of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS)—how important it is to plan who you go with. Are you all physically and mentally prepared? Are your goals aligned? Some might want to race through the trip, while others might want to slow down and soak it all in. Conflicting values can influence your impact.
Even creating a meal plan beforehand can help you Leave No Trace, as carrying the right amount of food reduces waste (and weight). Shedding excess food packaging before the trip goes a long way too—as waste disposal is a real challenge outdoors.
2. TRAVEL AND CAMP ON DURABLE SURFACES
The rocks are hard and sharp in the Kimberley. Every foot placement required concentration and I was glad to have solid boots, my Quagmire Gaiters
, and trekking poles
(with rubber tips to reduce marking rock surfaces). A broken ankle would have been a very bad outcome. But for all its rugged landscapes, the Kimberley can also be surprisingly fragile terrain.
We came to an expansive area of dry, waist-high grass. We debated how best to travel through this. ‘Just walk through it,’ I thought. Nobody else will be here for months, what damage can we do?
We deliberated this move as a group. Do we all walk through the grass single-file? The benefit of this method is that the person at the front will scare off any snakes and can be on the lookout for holes that will cause a trip or fall. The downside of this technique is that that grass would be squashed by many feet, which would most certainly leave a trace potentially for months to come.
Option B was to spread out to minimise the any damage done to the local flora, though this option came with an increased risk of injury or danger.
Which option would you choose?
There is not one right answer to this conundrum—David explains that every environment requires a different approach. Every option has a potential downside. One rule of thumb to consider is that, if one person walking on it is going to kill it (and you’d have to use your own judgement to speculate on this), then perhaps all should follow. Otherwise, depending on the potential dangers, it’s better to disperse to reduce your impact.
After traversing the long grass, we camped that night in a majestic location—near a sandy riverbed in the middle of nowhere (we were told there were no crocs to lookout for). We pitched our tents with consideration of where we would set up the camp kitchen and our ablution area to minimise our footprint. That night I learnt a new way to light a fire and then gazed up at a starry sky that blew my mind.
Image: David Summers
3. DISPOSE OF WASTE PROPERLY
‘What do I do with my poo?’ is a common query from considerate campers. It all starts with finding an area that’s a good 100m from water sources and courses. Then, digging a hole in organic soil where possible to assist in the breakdown of your personal waste. The hole should be around 15cm wide, and around 15–20cm deep. The Sea to Summit Pocket Trowel
is the perfect tool for this job.
In the Kimberley, the ground was covered in rocks, so at times we needed to remove them before digging the hole (being mindful of any creatures hiding underneath). Then, after concluding our business, we replaced the rocks. Some vouch for burying the paper, some carry it out. LNT purists have even been known to use leaves and sticks in place of toilet paper, and to carry out their waste. It is a personal choice and there can be regulations in some National Parks around the world to consider. Whatever you do, avoid starting a bush fire by carelessly burning your toilet paper.
The Sea to Summit Trash Dry Sack
is also a great way to pack out all your leftover waste—like food packaging, toilet paper and Wilderness Wipes
(hot tip: try spitting your toothpaste into these). As a dry bag, it can be hung off the ground overnight—to keep critters out—and attached to the outside of your pack for the journey home.
Washing yourself and your kitchen gear a good 50 metres away from water sources and courses using an LNT-endorsed soap such as Wilderness Wash is a good practice to follow too. The Sea to Summit Kitchen Sink
and Folding Buckets
are great products for this. David also recommends washing off your sunscreen before swimming in streams, lakes, and rivers—and the lightweight Pocket Shower
is as pretty much as good as it gets when you are 2,000 kilometres from home.
Image: Ryan Musiello
4. LEAVE WHAT YOU FIND
The next day I was asked to remove my gaiters and examine them closely. It hadn’t occurred to me at the time, but I had carried seeds from the long grass with me. This created discussions about how we can unknowingly transfer seeds and soil from one environment to the next. I now check my clothing and boots more regularly. I remove excess soil from my tent pegs before moving on.
Our group debated the ins and outs of this principle further. Is it acceptable to take shells? Is it ok to take stones or artifacts? What items are of cultural or environmental significance and what aren’t?
The digital world adds another layer of complexity to this.
On one hand, technology can make it much easier to Leave No Trace. “We have the opportunity to utilise technology to learn about an area we are visiting in depth,” says Cameron. “To understand the issues and threats in an area, and to implement good field practices.”
However, on the other hand, sharing the GPS co-ordinates of every magical spot—or posting every hidden gem on social media—can be a sure-fire way to attract too many explorers to one area. In some cases, iconic sites can be drastically affected overnight.
I came across indigenous rock art and, unsure of whether photography would be considered disrespectful, I decided to draw what I saw. I still have that sketch today. Not everything needs to be broadcast to the world.
Another thing I do to Leave No Trace is to clean my campsite before I move on. This involves finding a fallen branch and sweeping away any tent and peg marks so that the next visitor is greeted with a well-cared-for space. Maybe this will inspire them to leave it in the same condition.
Image: Rob McSporran
5. MINIMISE CAMPFIRE IMPACTS
As we stopped at many locations along the Gibb River Road, we saw so much visible damage from fire pits. Everyone loves a good fire, but it seemed like every traveller wanted their own virgin fire pit. Fire pits are ugly, so make fewer of them by using a pre-existing one—or, leave no trace by burying your cold coals and ashes.
Our instructors showed us how to make a ‘twiggy fire’, a small intimate flame that encourages quiet conversation and contemplation under those world-class stars. We placed a small pile of sand (around 100ml deep) on top of our folded tarp. We then found wood (about finger thickness) and kept a constant small fire going. Afterwards, we scattered the cold ashes until there was no sign of burnt wood to be seen by anybody else.
If you’re allowed a fire on the beach, making one below the high tide mark can reduce any trace the next day. Way inland in the Kimberley, campfires can quickly become bushfires.
Spinifex and dry grasses are terrific fire starters—both intentionally and unintentionally. In any given year, the Kimberley can be impacted by hundreds of bushfires that burn millions of hectares. Clear your site in preparation of a fire and have water nearby just in case. A Pack Tap
is ideal being a lightweight water storage solution that takes very little pack space. Ensure the fire is completely out before going to bed or leaving the site.
Image: Rob McSporran, note the small conservative fire ring, then an additional fire made three feet away littered with plastic, glass and tin.
6. RESPECT WILDLIFE
The way we dispose of our waste, bury our daily business, carry out our scraps, use less-harmful soaps, or make noise impacts local wildlife. Your choice of campsite is a big factor too. Camping next to that majestic waterhole may interrupt an animal’s daily pilgrimage to drinking water. In a hot, dry country, camping there for several days could have serious consequences—so be on the lookout for animal trails and be considerate of these. David’s rule of thumb is that if you scared away wildlife you probably got too close.
7. BE CONSIDERATE OF YOUR HOSTS AND OTHER VISITORS
LNT asks us to consider the millions of visitors that share our national parks and open spaces every year. We can all consider how our behaviour, the noise we make; and the placement of tents affect others. We can ask ourselves are we hogging prime photo spots and dominating the space others wish to share?
It’s also incredibly important to ask the right people for the right permission to access country. Take time to consider the cultural significance of the spaces you wish to travel on.
“The ecosystems we all love to play in, and visit are the result of thousands of years of someone's stewardship and care,” says Cameron. “Even today, most of the worlds natural areas and species are managed by Indigenous or First Nation peoples—not National Parks.’
Whether you are a seasoned outdoor enthusiast or a newcomer to this kind of adventure, our future enjoyment, and the environment we share depends on everyone’s consideration of how to Leave No Trace.
Image: Rob McSporran
The Leave No Trace product range
will not only improve your adventure in the wild, but help you reduce your environmental footprint and enable the wilderness to stay the way it should be - Wild.
About the writer: Rob McSporran is National Sales Manager at Sea to Summit Australia. Having a foundation of guiding adventure-based tours Egypt, Tanzania and Australia, Rob continues to share his passion for the outdoors with individuals and groups within his local Western Australian community.