Trail Booty

Trail Booty: When lost gear is foundThe latest in outdoor gear presents a problem. In some ways, the resources used to make our gear conflicts with the low-impact lifestyle we mountain dwellers try to follow, but that’s not the biggest issue. People who venture outside seem to lose more stuff than anyone else. There is even a name for this problem. When we fail at following proper Leave No Trace, we call it Trail Booty.

I was thinking about it hard one afternoon while sitting on the roof of my apartment. A line of prayer flags recovered from the side of Engineer Mountain, where they had blown off the summit, were tied up and flapped gently overhead. The Patagonia pullover I was wearing was found forgotten on a trail somewhere in New Mexico. I had found my Sanuk shoes in the middle of Highway 50 while driving out of Gunnison, and the Prana hat on my head I had found in a parking lot in Summit County frozen into a muddy ball. I ran the hat through the dishwasher and have been wearing it most every day since. I have eaten Gu packets dropped by mountain bikers, drank eddy beers plucked from rivers, reclaimed gloves frozen stiff and alone on Loveland Pass and clipped into abandoned climbing gear only to bail on it, leaving it behind again just a few short feet higher. I assured myself that someone else would soon be by to clean the gear I found then discarded.

Maybe that person would be the same person who found the helmet I lost while paddling the Lower Canyons of the Rio some years before, but probably not. Maybe still it would be the person who found the pot I accidentally left behind at a camp in the Gila Wilderness. By the time I noticed it had been left, it would have taken two days to recover it. It was now Trail Booty.

Of all those in the backcountry, nobody knows the concept of finding and collecting lost gear more than a forest ranger. Most often, they are the first into an area at the start of a season and the last to leave. They cover more ground and spend entire seasons working in perhaps just one area and, by the end, know it well. For them, trail booty is nearly as important a perk as the pro-deals they get through their employer. In the spring, as the snow recedes from the valleys and appears to slide up the mountains, leaving just a crown at the top, the slopes along popular alpine routes become a shopping ground of lost gear. Dropped alpine axes, bottles, gloves and helmets can be plucked out of alpine grass and the exposed rocks after they were lost to the void by someone up above only a season before. Clothes moved by storms and stuff sacks blown away stand out among the rocks like garbage.

After a little rinse, a trip to the local gear resale shop will turn your third ice axe that is too short for you and a few fire-blackened pots and pans into a couple of bucks in your pocket. It turned out to be a good haul and a good thing, because that brand-new technical shell you have been looking at is still $240 after the pro deal.

John Cameron writes from wild spaces and high places around the Four Corners. He hangs his hammock in aspen groves and calls it home, but his bag is never unpacked. His last story for the MG was “The Leisure Sports Roadshow,” which appeared in #179.

The Leisure Sports Roadshow

My life goal was to become proficient at as many leisure sports as possible and I pursued that goal with passion. After a rendezvous in a dusty truck stop, I tossed my pack into a trailer that was loaded with a week’s worth of climbing and living gear. It was pulled by a van loaded with weeks of sand-coated climbers and seasonal misfits. We began roaming the foothills and peaks of the Dragoon Mountains of southern Arizona, including the intriguing and endless granite spires of Cochise Stronghold. The cluster of rocks, some hundreds of feet tall, literally jut out of the desert floor like a giant fort and was where Apache Chief Cochise launched his last stand against American forces in 1861.

Photo: John Cameron

We spent our time playful but also observant of the significance of the area that we were part of. Each nook and cranny revealed a crack, a line to climb, tunnels to explore, new routes, spires to mount and pictographs etched and painted by any of many unknown predecessors. In the evenings after climbing, we would fall asleep where we were among the rocks or return to our camp in the grassy fields that out-lie the Stronghold. There we continued to play. We swung on ropes and webbing and in hammocks and port-a-ledges suspended in the trees yet not far from the ground. Being suspended just felt right. The sunsets were as warm as a Jacuzzi, but cooler than the hot desert days. The brilliance of the evening light was the sun’s way of apologizing for the midday rays being so torturous.

In the fields, we dressed up and danced, played music and games. We found new skills and leisure activities to master. We spent every day exploring and experimenting and returned to camp to do the same. “Yeah but can you juggle these?” was the challenge. Or: “Try this, that was cool.” And so on. Days went uncounted and the weeks nearly did too. At one point, our obscurity began to improve and our amusement became a spectacle. One of us had just mastered juggling rocks while hoola-hooping on a slackline, but it nearly went unnoticed because Eric was busy juggling flaming sticks dipped in white gas.

At other times, stillness was what amazed us. In the mornings, we would drink tea in the immense fields and there was an evening that we watched the sun slide into the ground from atop Sheepshead Mountain after climbing the route “Peacemaker.” It was as if we were the only ones who could see the sunset that day. I wrote my favorite Haiku in the summit registry and we hiked off in the dark.

Aspen leaf
Falling down
Showing side to side

Somewhere on Interstate 10 while heading West toward Tucson in the expanse of desert, we crested the only rise hiding our view for the last 30 miles. What we saw on the endless road through the endless desert was that it was now choked with an almost endless line of cars that were not moving. People were milling around in the heat outside of their vehicles, straining to see what was causing the road to be completely closed in our west-bound direction. We got out of our van to catch up with the gossip that was moving up and down the line or cars. Word quickly came back that a construction spill littered the road and it might be 45 minutes to an hour before it could be moved.

Photo: John Cameron

With that, the trailer door was yanked open and the cooler and camp stove were brought out (for grilled cheeses) along with the hoola-hoops, guitars, poi, juggling sticks, wiffle balls, frisbees and hacky sacks. We were masters of recreation and an unforeseen opportunity to practice our leisure sports was as good as any.

A truck was turned around so the slackline could be set up between the bumpers. In our crusty trail-weathered duds, we carried on among the cars, the families and other motorists along the interstate. They got out, looked on with smiles and were soon catching frisbees and footballs as well. We inadvertently held the first and probably only Leisure Sports Roadshow.

Timeliness breeds nostalgia and as quickly as it began, the gear was put away and cars in the distance began to move again. We climbed into our respective vehicles and rolled on with everybody else without knowing what there was to find next.

John Cameron writes from wild spaces and high places around the Four Corners. He hangs his hammock in aspen groves and calls it home but his bag is never unpacked. This is his first piece for the Mountain Gazette.