Monday, April 12, 2010


This is one of my favorite photos. I took it on a hike into Panthertown Valley in 2004. I like it because just looking at that weathered bit of timber meant many things to me. Among them was that this place had been lightly used. When I walked out onto the bare rock near the summit of Little Green Mountain, it was obvious that not a lot of people hiked out there. The rock was still covered in various grasses, mosses, and tiny flowering plants. All of that stuff is very fragile and the constant footfall of 200-pound apes kills it quickly. So the very presence of the stuff showed the casual observer that not a lot of people frequented the area.

And the existence of that bit of old stump also meant to me that no one had happened upon it and, as stupid goddamned humans will do, figured it merely as something to burn up in a fire.

When I go backpacking I try to make a practice of NOT building a campfire. Don't get me wrong--I love a good campfire. They make you feel secure in the night. And when I'm camping in a developed campground I will not hesitate to fire up a good blaze at my campsite beside my wall tent or travel trailer.

However, the back country is not the place for a campfire. Our wild places are very fragile. Fires cause a lot of damage and modern backpackers just don't need to build them. There are all kinds of portable stoves and fuel sources to carry along for cooking meals. Lightweight headlamps and battery powered torches are just a few ounces and are effective. So I almost never build a fire when I go backpacking. (The only exception in the last ten years or so was when I backpacked into Linville Gorge a couple of years ago and built a fire within a huge fire ring at my campsite.)

But the point is, that bit of wood that was, to me, beautiful to look upon, would not have been there if some jackass setting up camp nearby had gone searching for fuel for a goddamned campfire and seen it. The old, weathered stump would have ended up in a campfire and I would never have seen it there atop the swirl of ancient granite surrounded by greenery.

I've been back to this spot several times since 2004. The old stump is gone, of course. It's possible that it was blown or washed down the slope and toward the foot of the cliff. But more likely some fucking jackass who was camped on the nearby mountaintop went scrounging for fire wood and saw it; and burned it up.

Don't build fires when you're backpacking. Save that for the developed campgrounds. Yeah, they're fun, but they don't belong in the back country in a modern world.

Vista near the summit of Little Green Mountain. (Click to enlarge.)

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