“On a Grand Canyon overnight, I did a terrible thing. When I reached the bottom, I realized I’d packed a pound more fuel than I’d need. I tried to give it away, but no one would accept. So, rather than hike 4,400 vertical feet with the extra weight, I found a sandy strip far from the water, and poured it out. I can’t stop thinking about that white gas as it seeps, seeps, seeps toward the Colorado River.”
–Penitent in Portland
Most hikers are guilty of burning too much fuel, rather than dumping it out, but we’ve still got bad news: Studies show that the toxic effects of fuel contamination are greater in sandy soil than in dense, loamy stuff, and that fuel contaminants are pretty bad for underground microbes, which the rest of the ecosystem depends on to break down debris and keep plant life thriving. Gas also contains carcinogens. However, if you dumped the fuel at least 200 feet from water, the sand will likely absorb and trap toxins before they reach the river. And while your 20 fluid ounces of white gas can, in theory, contaminate as many as 120,000 gallons of water, about 100,000 gallons flow through the Grand Canyon every second on average. If a bunch of people followed your lead, the cumulative effect could be far worse, but a single, isolated spill is a drop in the proverbial bucket (just don’t do it again).
If you were writing from the canyon floor, we’d have you scoop up the fuel-soaked sand and carry it up the Bright Angel Trail. But you can make up for it: Next time you pass an illegal backcountry fire pit, scoop up all the ash and carry that out. (Ash isn’t harmful, but piles of it encourage use of the site and look unnatural.) May every weighted step remind you that a little exercise is better than a dirty landscape.
Got a confession? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about reducing your impact, visit Leave No Trace’s site.