A mile into the hike Tuesday, we had seen so many people we decided to count them. Before the day was over, we would see 50 people.
Not often enough, I get my three sons together and we pack everything we need to survive overnight in the woods and we go into the mountains and hike a trail. Our favorite trail has always been the Panther Creek trail just north of Clarkesville.
Panther Creek is a trail I used to hike when I was in high school and college. It’s a fairly easy hike – to the waterfall and back out to the car it’s a total of six or seven miles. There is some change in elevation on a couple of parts of the trail so you get that feel of being in the mountains, and the entire trail runs beside the creek. It’s very pretty, it’s not too arduous, and the waterfall at the end is a really great reward for those who make the hike in.
I remember hiking this trail in college and not seeing another person. And that’s how I like my forays into the wilderness: Secluded and solitary.
The last time the boys and I hiked Panther Creek we saw a few day hikers. Maybe 8 or 10 other people, but something under a dozen. With the waterfall only three miles or so off the road, it’s easy for day hikers to walk back to the waterfall, hang out for a while at the natural pool below the falls, and walk back out to their car. It’s just the right distance to be a good day hike.
But if you’re looking for seclusion and a good game of solitaire, day hikers are exactly the right kinds of people to mess things up for you.
What we discovered this week on our hike at Panther Creek is that the day hikers have multiplied. Where before we might have seen 10 people day hiking, this time we saw 50 people. Fifty. That’s half of a hundred people. With that many people on a 3-mile trail, you might as well open a Post Office, start building houses, and call it a town. Fifty people on a 3-mile trail isn’t a bunch of day hikers, 50 people on a 3-mile trail is a population.
The other thing we discovered is that day hikers are disgusting people who leave trash everywhere they go.
Day hikers are trash leavers.
I knew we were in trouble when we came down the first short leg of the trail and saw that someone had cleared a camp site and brought to their campsite a recliner. They didn’t take the recliner out. Nothing says wilderness and mountain seclusion like a pink recliner just off the trail. Within a tenth of a mile of the recliner we’d already seen eight day hikers.
It’s not that I have anything against day hikers. I’m sure many of them are decent people. My problem is with people in general. Especially when I’m hiking, I don’t want to see people. And even more than that, I don’t want to see the trash they leave behind.
And Panther Creek looks like a landfill.
What a disappointment it was to us to not be able to use the campsite we always use. It was disgusting. Trash was all over the place. Worse, someone with a terrible case of dysentery and a pack of baby wipes had made the campsite uninhabitable. I won’t go into detail about how disgusting our usual campsite was, but it was gross. And the person with dysentery did not limit their travails to one spot well away from the campsite. They hit it here and there and everywhere. Without trying hard, we found four examples of how sick this person was, with baby wipes marking the spot. And every spot was literally about five steps away from where we would have pitched a tent or cooked our dinner. There were flies in the campsite. I’ve never seen that before.
But to give you an idea of how bad our usual campsite was, when we found another spot and set up our tent and started our fire, one of my sons discovered a tampon applicator on the ground.
We didn’t even blink. Four men who don’t have any idea what a tampon applicator is used for (other than, obviously, applicating tampons) were unfazed by the presence of a tampon applicator so near to our cooking fire.
Nobody said, “Gross, we shouldn’t eat or sleep here.”
Because we had seen much, much worse.
At the waterfall, trash was everywhere. And the 50 people we’d seen on the trail were all hanging out at the waterfall also.
Day hikers and trash leavers, all huddled around the rocks on the banks of the creek, being generally disgusting and ruining my solitary seclusion. One family had brought their untrained, yappy dogs so that there was a constant yapping. The yapping was only drowned out by the whining of the little kids who didn’t want to be walking three miles to see a dumb waterfall anyway and now their legs were tired. And the whining kids were only drowned out by the local teenagers who wanted all these kids and yappy dogs to leave so they could smoke dope and have sex.
When we put down our packs on one of the big boulders near the waterfall, we saw that someone had left the top to a Dairy Queen ice cream on the rock. Who hikes three miles to see a waterfall with a Dairy Queen ice cream in their hand?
But everywhere we looked there were signs of trash leavers. Empty water or Gatorade bottles littered the trail. Discarded Dorito’s bags and other food packaging of all sorts. The person with dysentery had managed to litter three miles worth of baby wipes along the trail.
The 50 people we saw were split in half between parents with young kids or groups of teenagers. And whether they were leaving trash along the trail or not, most all of them were generating a significant volume of noise pollution.
In almost every case, we heard them coming along the trail before we ever saw them. Teenagers squealing. Little kids yelling. Parents shouting.
My sons were lectured repeatedly.
“When you go into the wilderness, you leave it better than you found it,” I told the boys. “If you pack it in, you pack it out. You leave no trace that you were here.”
And any time I examined the remains of a camping fire, I would yell at my children (so that they will never forget): “Aluminum foil does not burn!”
What moron is throwing aluminum foil in a fire pit to burn it? It does not work. If you toss aluminum foil into your campfire, you are littering just like all the day hikers and trash leavers. It’s gross, and no one wants to cook their dinner over your litter. Stop doing it.
But it’s not my intention to write a column complaining about a trail overrun with day hikers and trash leavers.
As Harrison said when we were leaving, “It was a really good hike, except someone was complaining the whole time about the number of people on the trail.” He was referring to me.
I don’t want to be the guy who goes backpacking with his three sons and only complains about tampon applicators. So we’ll just call this Part 1, an introduction to the actual column. And that’s a pretty good story about how I froze all night long and didn’t get any sleep.
And I’ll leave off my complaints about day hikers and trash leavers with a final thought.
Panther Creek is a pretty easy trail, three miles to the waterfall and three miles back out, and the trail now bypasses the hardest part (a short climb and squeeze up a rocky outcropping). It’s very picturesque with the creek running beside the trail and the pretty waterfall at the end. As such, it really is the perfect trail for day hikers and trash leavers. It’s exactly the sort of place where those people should be. The 50 day hikers and trash leavers we saw were not in the wrong place. Instead, my three sons and I were the ones who were out of place. If we’re looking for solitude and seclusion, we need to find a longer, more arduous trail. We probably need to find a trail that doesn’t have a pretty waterfall that might attract day hikers and trash leavers. We probably need to find a trail that is not an easy-in and easy-out, one that does not lend itself to day hikers or those who would leave trash.
I know just the place, but I’ll never tell anyone where it is.
Rob Peecher is author of “Four Things My Wife Hates About Mornings,” and he really was appalled by the volumes of trash that those disgusting people left on the trail at Panther Creek.