British Columbia is the custodian of some of the most spectacular wilderness remaining in the world, including the unique ecosystems of the Okanagan basin.
However, there has been and continues to be degradation of these precious wild areas even by those who revere them. As more and more of us discover the wonders of our natural environment, it becomes increasingly important that each of us ensures that our natural surroundings are protected and preserved so our children may also know the same wonders of this incredible region.
Keep this in mind as you head out on the backroads and byways. Educate yourself to protect and preserve our natural areas, even as you enjoy them. Remember to protect yourself as well, by learning—beforehand—about the nature of the area in which you plan to explore. Arm yourself with up-to-date maps (see Getting There—and Getting Back), a compass (and the skill to use it), water, some sustenance, and suitable clothing.
Always let someone know where you plan to go and when you'll be back. And don't travel alone.
Water and Waste
Although it's essential to life, water can also harm life as well. No open body of water should be considered safe to drink without first treating it for invisible parasites and microorganisms, which can cause mild to acute illness.
One of the most common causes of illness is the Giardia lamblia cyst, which multiplies in the intestinal tract of warm-blooded animals such as humans, and causes an illness often called beaver fever. The cysts are spread in water contaminated by the feces of infected animals or people and are present in more than 70 per cent of our watersheds.
To be safe, either boil water for one minute before cooling and drinking it; treat it with four drops of iodine tincture per litre or four drops of pure household bleach per four litres of water, up to double that if cloudy; or filter it with a special system available in outdoor stores.
If using the iodine or bleach method, make sure to stir it in and let it sit for at least 30 minutes before drinking. Cryptosporidium, a microscopic parasite, is found in soil, food, water, or surfaces that have been contaminated with infected human or animal feces. It is resistant to chlorine, but water can be treated by heating to a rolling boil for at least one minute, or by the use of a filter that has an absolute pore size of at least one micron or one that has been NSF rated for "cyst removal."
We can help prevent the spread of such internal infections by being responsible about disposal of our waste in the outdoors.
Never use streams or lakes as a bath, toilet, or sink.
Use the proper facilities provided whenever possible, but otherwise when hiking or camping in the backcountry, the ideal solution is to carry out all human waste.
If that goes further than your commitment to preserving the natural environment, do ensure you never urinate or defecate within 100 metres of open water.
Instead, dig a small hole and replace the sod after you're through.
When camping, wash water should be disposed of in a hole, 25-30 centimetres deep, at least 100 metres from any body of water.
Create as little waste as possible. Always pack out what you pack in.
In wilderness areas, tread lightly in both the figurative and the literal sense, leaving no trace of your presence behind you. That way, both you and those who follow will enjoy fields of wild flowers, trees alive with birds, and forests full of wildlife.
Leaving no trace begins with good planning before you depart, eliminating leftovers and reducing the garbage produced while on your trip.
Wherever possible, use existing trails. Do not detour around muddy sections since the added traffic will break down the trail edge and widen it, or cause multiple trails which scar the natural areas that are the reason you go hiking.
Where trails don't already exist, select a route over the most durable terrain such as gravel creek beds, sandy or rocky areas. Whenever possible, avoid steep, loose slopes and wet areas.
Keep in mind that many plants die if they're stepped on and some soils erode even after being trampled lightly.
When camping in a wilderness area, select a site that would be least damaged by your stay. Choose either high-use sites already damaged, or pristine sites in durable areas such as on rocky terrain or a gravel bar, rather than the forest floor or sites with low growing shrubs.
Do not cut trees for firewood or furniture or boughs for beds. If you must have a fire, use an existing fire ring if possible, built on rocky or sandy soil away from trees, dry vegetation, or roots. Use only as much dry dead wood as you need.
Burn your fire down to ash before pouring water on it. The extinguished fire should be cold enough for you to lay your bare hand on it. Leave no sign of your fire.
Remember: When you enter the wilderness you are entering the homes of wild animals. Respect their space and minimize your intrusion on their lives. View them from enough distance so they are unaware of your presence.
Leave your pets at home.
Trails are often traversed by hooves, feet, and wheels, but by using common sense, communication and courtesy, conflict, danger, and damage can be avoided.
Trail protocol suggests that the most mobile yield the right-of-way, but there are exceptions to this rule. Ideally, cyclists yield to everyone, and hikers yield to horses.
A loaded string of horses going uphill always has the right-of-way, and a cyclist climbing steeply will appreciate the same courtesy.
Hikers: If you encounter horse riders, your group should step off to the same side of the trail, the lower side if possible, allowing two to three metres for them to pass. If you come up on horses from behind, greet the riders before you pass so they're aware you're there. Otherwise, you might startle either the animal or rider.
Mountain Bikers: Always anticipate a horse or hiker around a blind curve. Prevent the possible sudden, unexpected encounter from a bike's quick and silent approach. Yield to hikers and equestrians. Get off the bike and move to the lower side of the trail to let horses pass. When approaching from behind, speak so they know you're there. Learn to minimize damage to trails with techniques such as riding and not sliding, and cycle on designated trails. Bicycle tires easily damage meadows. Stay off trails when they're wet and muddy. Otherwise, they'll become pathways for water erosion.
Horse Riders: Use an experienced, steady mount and give clear directions to other trail users on how you would like them to stand clear. In steep, rough country, downhill traffic yields to uphill travellers, but use common sense. Whoever can pull off easiest should. Avoid soft and muddy trails.
Warn others of wire, potholes, and boggy areas.
Above all, respect private property, "No Trespassing" signs, and leave gates as you found them.