Backcountry Ethics - free-ride big mountain biking in Alaska/Yukon - Mountain Buzz
 

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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #1
 
Join Date: Apr 2018
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Backcountry Ethics - free-ride big mountain biking in Alaska/Yukon

I've recently been reading up on some beautiful rivers up in BC, Alaska, and the Yukon. In doing so I ran across a film (on youtube but it connect me to the red bull website) that bothered me. A bunch of downhill mountain bikers that ran the Tatshenshini River with their downhill bikes and a Redbull sponsored helicopter and camera crew. The link is posted here.

https://www.redbull.com/int-en/ridin...-storch-mccaul

The river looks amazing and the scenery beautiful. What really disturbed me was the downhill mountain bike riding on untouched mountains. I'd call it shredding up the mountainside tundra. I've been running rivers for 23 years and mountain biking (on established mountain bike trails) for 30, and for me the main commonality of these two sports is the love of the outdoors and the beautiful places that you can get to. But watching these guys heli-lift their bikes to the top of these untouched mountains just to shred straight down and tear up the mountainside goes against the ethics of leave-no-trace. These guys even built jumps up there, shown somewhere in the middle of the 50 minute movie that was made.

I'm not bringing this up to pick on anyone if they like this kind of riding. But I think its worth discussing where the limit of one's self-perceived "leave-no-trace" efforts are. Funny enough, on the Redbull website speaking about this movie they made, it says "To ensure minimum impact on this beautiful yet unforgiving landscape, the riders travelled methodically using the Leave No Trace principles, meaning among other things that all waste including human was packed out." OK, the packing out your human waste is pretty standard practice for rafters, but what is not standard it thrashing the tundra with mountain bike wheels and digging it up to make jumps. That is not leave no trace. Think if we all did that when we ran the Grand Canyon.

I watched most of the video to make sure that I was not overreacting. After doing so, I personally think that the answer is NO, this is not acceptable. Here are my reasons.
1. I don't want this kind of mountain biking to be normalized in fragile ecosystems. Even if it is a one-off kind of thing they did up there in the Tatshenshini wilderness, they left behind a lot of trenches that can cause erosion. Maybe nobody will ever go back to where they were or see their tracks, but the impact is there either way. But beyond that, what if it is not a one-off kind of thing. Perhaps people who idolize these bikers are doing their own helicopter (or raft+helicopter) trips in various backcountry mountains to do the same thing.
2. I don't want this to be normalized form of biking where I live either. I bike in the Wasatch Mountains and there are lots of great established trails that flow through the backcountry, and there are also a lot of people. These obviously have environmental impact, as any permanent trail does, but permanent trails are also designed to minimize erosion, are maintained to prevent erosion, and I assume that new ones go through environmental impact assessments and approval. But if everyone who wanted to started riding wherever they wanted to, things would look like crap. I've seen ATV/off road dirt bike tracks along some of the highways through central Utah. Not a good look, and whether its seen alongside the highway or in the backcountry, shredded up hillsides are not what you want to see when you get there.
3. Should there be places that people can ride this way? Sure, to an extent. I know there are lots of mountains and ski resorts that cater to aggressive downhill and I thats probably fine as long as it is contained to regulated areas.

But I don't think anybody should just go build jumps and ride down steep terrain and leave scars wherever they want to. To me, it reflects a selfish disregard for sensitive habitats/wildlife/and other people, and does not conform to leave-no-trace ethics.

One final thought. I think it is worth the occasional introspection to think about our own actions in the backcountry (BTW - wondering if BC.com will come after me for using that darn word), and decide if our own efforts are up to snuff, no matter what type of outdoor sport or activity we like to enjoy. For example, I like to hike a lot when I go on river trips, and even do occasional compass-based orienteering to go off trail - but I feel like the impact of hiking off-trail is much more gentle than biking off trail at high speeds. But there are places I don't hike off trail (for example cryptobiotic soil). Also, I would consider heli-skiing on snow to be low-impact (not something I do anyway because of price), whereas heli-mountain biking down scree and tundra mountainsides to be high impact because of erosion and plant degradation.

Just my thoughts...If any of you enjoy this kind of free-range biking, I'd love to hear your thoughts and perspective on what you do to minimize environmental impact, and also whether you think what is shown in this film is normal and acceptable vs. outside the norm/not acceptable. I have my own opinions (often very strong ones), but am also open-minded and respectful if there is another way for me to look at this.

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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #2
SarahofTheWaves
 
FoCo,NoCo, Colorado
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There is a big push by some to open wilderness to mechanized/mtb travel. Is this what they imagine? Heavy impact, heavy privilege resource use. The area is considered a wilderness by Canada. Do not know their standards.


Would hate to have been on the river while this Redbull effort was happening.



There was about a 20 second bit toward the end when threats to/ preservation of the river and area was mentioned. (I did not watch the entire movie. There could have been more.)



Difficult to imagine that this could logistically/financially be an option for many. It wasn't easy for these guys and they had a lot of support. But they had to set up their own tents! Horror!


Rant I could but won't. Not worth it.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #3
Never enough free time
 
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Funny enough, on the Redbull website speaking about this movie they made, it says "To ensure minimum impact on this beautiful yet unforgiving landscape, the riders travelled methodically using the Leave No Trace principles, meaning among other things that all waste – including human – was packed out."
The minimum impact that they could have while building jumps. ;0

The real question is whether or not they went through proper channels in order to get permission, and hopefully offset their impact. If the wilderness area management signed off then I don't have a problem with it, but if they didn't, I would hope that Red Bull pays a large enough fine to actually discourage the behavior.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #4
 
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Redbull........it's all about the money.........
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #5
 
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Is scree not held in similar regard as a dry creek bed in regards to impact consideration.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #6
 
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As a guy who enjoyes rock crawling and 4x4 activities... I definitely think that what the Redbull mountainbike crew were doing sounds out of line. I havent't watched it yet...but at least the descriptions you gave make it seem so.

The vast majority of offroad users I've interacted with would not only disagree with how those guys behaved, but would publicly shame them. There were many instances of people posting pictures in various places of them doing off trail behavior and they were publicly derided for doing so. There are laws in many places, Colorado being one, that unless it is a marked trail by the relevant authority for the area (Forest Service, BLM, etc) then you shouldn't be using it.

That said... with the easy with which you can get into offroad stuff these days by just going and buying a UTV... there will be plenty of uneducated people that don't know any better (even though I think its pretty obvious).

I've noticed TV shows seem to get a pass though...which doesn't seem right at all to me. Top Gear America regularly ignored those rules and I've seen other shows do similar stuff. I'm sure sometimes they get permission from the authorities (probably with some money changing hands) to go off trail...but the conservation and preservation side of things is rarely mentioned. So...I agree... glamorizing this isn't great. I don't mind it with Skiing since the snow melts and leaves no trace 6 months later... but offroad vehicles certainly do a ton of damage whether human powered or motorized. Not gonna lie, if you can forget that for a moment its really cool to watch... but to me its not worth an hours worth of entertainment/advertising to cause that kind of impact to the mountain environment.

Its a bit of "pot kettle black" though...since I've gotten hooked by that "Gold Rush" TV show on Discovery. Certainly a ton more impact with them. They do remediation and largely use areas that have historically been impacted by that industry for over a centry... but its still sad to see them bulldozing trees down and ripping through swamp land. They definitely have a lot of oversight by the environmental regulation authorities in the area though... so if they are truly doing bad things will likely get shut down and heavily fined. Still...it does tug at my environmental heart strings when I see them opening new land...especially with large trees on it.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #7
 
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I'd argue that "Leave No Trace" ethics are largely in the eye of the beholder.

EVERYTHING we do has some sort of impact. Some comparatively miniscule, some very major.

Concrete dams, concentrated radioactive waste, mountaintop removal/strip mining, plowing the prairies are major impacts that will take THOUSANDS of years to recover.

Look at photos from the 1870s-1900s from early mining activities in Idaho and MT have largely recovered. Larger scale hydraulic mining and dredge mining will take a few centuries to recover.

Clearcuts (if they haven't caused subsequent mudslides) will probably recover in 200-300 years. 2nd-3rd growth is in now, but won't become a full diverse mature forest for another century or two.

Riding a MTB in Tundra could take 3-5 years to recover, depending on level of damage.

The Earth has been around for BILLIONS of years, and will continue to exist for BILLIONS of years after we're gone barring some galactic catastrophe. We could easily wipe out human life on this planet, but we're not likely to destroy the entire planet.

So...to me, environmental ethics really has more to do with causing a minimal impact so that our kids and grandkids can enjoy playing outdoors the same way we have.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #8
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MT4Runner View Post
I'd argue that "Leave No Trace" ethics are largely in the eye of the beholder.

EVERYTHING we do has some sort of impact. Some comparatively miniscule, some very major.
So...to me, environmental ethics really has more to do with causing a minimal impact so that our kids and grandkids can enjoy playing outdoors the same way we have.

I'd agree with that, unfortunately some folks seem to have a "Me First" mentality and don't give any thought as to the consequences of their actions, believing themselves to be above reproach for their actions.

I see it more and more these days, and it's not just bicyclists, a few years ago Bobby Unser got caught snowmobiling in the wilderness, a couple of snowmobilers were riding on the tundra on Independence Pass with their sleds, We have an extensive mountain bicycle trail system in Salida, and they STILL ride off the beaten path. It's all about me...

Kinda a crappy attitude to have, I see it more and more these days.

It's just like the stark differences in the boaters that boat Ruby Horsethief vs the boaters that run Westwater. Stand at the ramp one Saturday or one Sunday and watch how the 2 different groups conduct themselves..
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #9
 
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I do agree. It's really a sustainability argument. At what level can resources sustain use without a serious negative impact.


That original MTB trail in Salida was an impact, but if the use can be constrained to that area and those trail prisms, it's "sustainable" in that further damage is not done and it protects other areas.


Snowmobiling is a pretty low-impact sport, but big-W Wilderness that has never been altered by man should remain that way. (conversely, I'm confused why areas that have been logged and mined are considered for WSA's. If the earth has rebounded from fairly impactful operations...it's proof that area will rebound, so why can't less impactful human mechanized use continue??)


Arguably the most popular OHV area in the US is Johnson Valley in Southern California. It was a WWII bombing range. Stunningly beautiful open desert. 4x4's can't really do more damage than TNT. Unfortunately the USMC thought it would be a great bombing range again and half the OHV area was lopped off and closed to public use.



Everyone can have a slice of pie if you can at least take care of maintaining and preserving your slice of pie. Everyone wants the other guy's slice of pie...and the people who can't even take care of their own pie don't deserve another slice!!


Quote:
Originally Posted by MNichols View Post
It's just like the stark differences in the boaters that boat Ruby Horsethief vs the boaters that run Westwater. Stand at the ramp one Saturday or one Sunday and watch how the 2 different groups conduct themselves..
Montana has a healthy redneck population, but interestingly the vast majority of boaters have reasonable ethics.


The FS is redoing the comprehensive resources management plan for the 3 Forks of the Flathead River. Their draft plan oddly has a lot of triggers/thresholds for boat/boater counts, but less on more difficult to enumerate but important criterion like noise, litter, human waste, etc.

They are considering permits, but say nothing about enforcement of current regulations. I'm going to hold their feet to the fire. Why can they justify 18 biologists to study it but not a single river ranger? Why are they jumping from "firepans recommended" to "permits required"? I stood up at the public meeting and stated that I'd rather deal with 300 ethical river users on a given day than a dozen people who ruin it for everyone else.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #10
 
Salida, Colorado
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MT4Runner View Post
I do agree. It's really a sustainability argument. At what level can resources sustain use without a serious negative impact.
Montana has a healthy redneck population, but interestingly the vast majority of boaters have reasonable ethics.

It's a curiosity for sure, RH has no rapids, and attracts a lot of never evers, Grand Junction locals are a big part of it, as well as experienced boaters looking to make Westwater into a 3 day trip, My experience with the boaters in WW has been good overall in the past 20 years, yes there's always one, but the beaches are rarely littered, even from the commercial customers lunching in camps, the commercial guides are quite well trained, but the stories I hear from the upstream rangers are at times unbelievable.

Completely trashed camps, drunken drug fueled college students running around naked harrasing families with children, not using firepans and starting wildland fires, shitting all over the place, it's unbelievable what goes on up there, not like anything I've experienced, and makes things like pumpkins on the river seem inert by comparison.
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