Be considerate — it’s mud season

Trails like Cobble Lookout in Wilmington are good mud season hikes since the path is relatively flat and rocky. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

Having officially entered the Adirondacks’ fifth season — mud — it can be tempting to get out and enjoy the longer days and warmer sun. While the black flies haven’t made an appearance yet, mud season brings its own sets of challenges, including soft trails, the chance for snow and icy spots.

But with the summer hiking season around the corner, and an almost guaranteed explosion of hikers and visitors to the Adirondacks just over the horizon, now may be a good time to brush up on some backcountry etiquette.

Mud

If hiking during mud season is unavoidable, it’s best to stick to roots, rocks and bedrock when possible to limit erosion. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

Mud season is called mud season for a reason, and it’s because there’s a lot of mud. The melting snow combined with still-frozen ground means that snowmelt and rain just sit on the upper layers of soil, making for a messy — and often ecologically damaging — hiking surface.

There is an argument to be made that hikers should really just stay off trails during this time of year. Churning up the mud can lead to increased erosion or the widening of already burdened paths. However, if you find the pull of the great north woods too great to ignore, then there are a couple of steps you can take to limit the harm done.

First, stay out of the High Peaks and other high-elevation, steep areas. These places are even more prone to erosion, and combined with rarer, more delicate plant communities and far thinner soils, the upper elevations of the Adirondacks are particularly prone to damage during mud season.

When you do go for a hike and encounter a muddy spot, the best course of action is to keep straight ahead. No one buys hiking boots hoping they’ll stay completely clean, so put that Gore-Tex to the test and stay in the middle of the trail.

One of the biggest issues with mud season hiking is that people try to avoid mud pits by making their way around them. This only widens the trail and — most likely — the mud pit. Also, when possible, stick to hard surfaces while hiking, such as rocks, roots and bedrock.

Poop

Come on. Really? Taking a dump ON A TRAIL?

Believe it or not, this happens shockingly often. A couple of years ago, a friend and I stumbled upon an employee of the Adirondack Mountain Reserve taking a crap — literally — in the middle of the trail. It was really gross. And the photos others post to social media prove that my experience was not an outlier.

Accidents happen. But if bears can crap in the woods, then so can we. All it takes is a little thought and some common decency.

Leave No Trace offers some guidelines on their website for how to properly poop in the woods, and step number one is to get off the trail and away from any waters such as ponds, lakes or streams. LNT says pooping should occur at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails, and you should pick an inconspicuous place to defecate where it’s unlikely anyone will stumble upon you.

Once a spot is chosen, dig a small cathole — which should be 6 to 8 inches deep and wide enough to handle the load. Once you’re done, it’s best to pack out toilet paper and then cover the cathole and camouflage it with natural materials.

LNT has more details and a short (non-graphic) video on its website at www.lnt.org/blog/critical-issues-how-poop-woods.

And while on the topic, pick up after dogs as well. No one expects you to dig a cathole for your dog, but bag it and take it with you when you leave. And dropping a bag of dog doo at the trailhead is completely unacceptable. Put that crap in your car and dispose of it properly.

Register and leave an itinerary

Regardless of the time of year, leaving an itinerary with someone and signing in at the trail register could save your life.

An itinerary doesn’t have to be a drawn-out document that only an expert in Adirondack trails could understand. Just a simple “I’m hiking St. Regis Mountain from Keese Mills Road, be back by 4,” should do it. Make sure the person you leave the itinerary with knows to call for help from the state Department of Environmental Conservation or 911 if you can’t be reached by the appointed time.

The trail registers not only confirm to searchers that you were there in the event you get lost, but they also help the DEC determine usage, funding and staffing priorities.

I’ve heard people say they don’t sign to avoid putting their phone number or address in a book that is open to the public. And not wanting that information out there is understandable, but so is leaving a few spots blank on the sign-in. Just fill in what you’re comfortable with (name, number of people, destination and check-out is probably sufficient), and get some peace of mind knowing that searchers will be more efficient in finding you if the worst happens.

With swings in the weather, wet and icy trails, and snow still up high, mud season can be a challenge. But with all of us pitching in to clean up after ourselves, the woods can be nicer place for everyone.

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