Everyone has their own reason for going to the mountains.
This morning I woke up at 3am tossed and turned until 4am where I finally thought eff it I’m just going to get up and head to the mountains. There’s this spot in Little Cottonwood Canyon that’s a bit of a trek, 10 miles round-trip and close to 4,000 feet of elevation gain, that I like to head to when my mind is so muddled with thoughts I cannot sleep.
I visited this spot after my Dad had his heart attack 12 years ago, after a particular harrowing break-up, and countless other times when I was struggling and needed a respite from my thoughts. For some reason when I’m running in the mountains, I don’t think much further than the trail 2 feet ahead of me. And this is why I go to the mountains.
Apparently someone else also loves this spot, because this morning it was strewn with 30-40 plastic candles and several wooden signs celebrating the milestones in a couple’s relationship (i.e. date of first kiss, date of first date, date of engagement, etc).
What an incredible place for an engagement! I can’t think of a more amazing spot and with all those candles – wow! But where was the couple? The engagement sign was dated yesterday so where were they? At first thought I was concerned that maybe they got too close to the edge for their post-engagement selfie and then I thought what if she (or he for that matter) had said no and ran back down the way they came never looking back. And then I thought what if he/she got too frightened and refused to go any further up the mountain (there is a bit of scrambling and exposure) and ruined the whole perfect proposal. And then I just got pissed because the more likely scenario is the couple left everything up there with or without the intention of returning to clean it all up meanwhile the plastic candles are being blown off the peak and all around the wilderness area where they will sit until someone like me picks them up.
Perhaps I am just getting old and curmudgeon-y, but I’ve noticed an increase in random trinket type things left on top of peaks around the Wasatch. This is not garbage which is an entirely different issue, but items intentionally left on top of peaks as part of a private game or company/event advertising. Think Pokemon Go with real Pokemons or maybe more like stuffed ones.
I know this is a tricky area to discuss and I fully acknowledge that even the best leave no trace ninja may inadvertently leave a gel wrapper out in the woods or their dog may poo far off the trail where the owner didn’t see. No one is perfect including me and I try my best to abide by the Leave No Trace principles. But things are going a little too far in the Wasatch, in my opinion.
There’s a new act in town, someone or something is hiding coins in the Wasatch, advertising clues on Instagram, and then awarding cash to the finder. Some of these coins have been hidden on peaks located in federal designated wilderness areas. I would argue that leaving prizes in wilderness violates the 1963 Wilderness Act which recognizes wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” The Wilderness Act bans commercial activities period.
I’m not sure what these coin leaving cash distributing people are up to and if they are affiliated with the Treasure Canyon peeps that are sponsoring treasure hunts around the Wasatch with their final event on September 3 in Provo Canyon with a $10,000 grand prize. Essentially you pay $50-60 to participate and receive nine clues that require you to run/hike over 10 kilometers to get to a treasure chest with $10,000 in it.
I am very curious how this treasure hunting company got a permit for 3000 participants unless it is perhaps all on private land. “Most canyons have terrible cellphone signal,” Cheney said in an interview with KSL. “Provo Canyon is the only one around that can handle 3,000 people going in to look for treasure. Any other canyon would be very congested.”
Three thousand people traipsing around a canyon following clues and overturning who knows what looking for treasures. I can’t imagine what could go wrong!
Treasure Canyon has also been sponsoring mini hunts like this one in Little Cottonwood Canyon. I really, really would like to know what kinds of permits are required for these types of commercial activities. Perhaps we are entering a new era of no longer visiting wilderness for wilderness sake and for that I am frightened.
Is experiencing wilderness for wilderness sake not enough? Does wilderness need to be combined with some sort of augmented reality, treasure hunting scheme, or private game among trail runners in order to be enjoyed?
The population in Utah is expected to double by 2050 and the number of people hitting the trails is exponentially higher than when I started exploring the Wasatch 15 years ago. I still have no problem finding the solitude I desire, but sometimes that means I need to get up earlier and go further. I’m just afraid if we don’t get a handle on these issues now the Wasatch is going to turn into some sort of treasure trove amusement park and our peaks a flea market.
I don’t have any solutions except for doing my best to abide by Leave No Trace principles, packing out trash I find on the trail, not supporting any of the Wasatch trinketing activities, and doing my best to not let these activities infringe on my wilderness experience meaning I just need to learn how to ignore it.
I hope the couple engaged on the top of the Pfeifferhorn yesterday has a lovely marriage (that would pretty much be my dream proposal oh my!). I also hope they were so excited about their engagement that they ran down the mountain arm and arm totally forgetting about all the things they left only to return today to carry it all home to keep as a souvenir from their special day.
Disclaimer: I have several photos of the trinketing around the Wasatch, but I did not post any because I didn’t want to call out anyone individually.