Ah, trash. The remains of products bought and biological output that everyone creates, but no one wants to deal with. Usually people come to take your trash away for you (depending on where you live of course) but in the alpine that isn’t an option. Realizing I work on the incredibly popular Quandary Peak, I decided to create a two month trash study to see what people were dumping and why. The parameters were very simple; any trash that wasn’t created by my coworkers or myself was collected in white trash bags and weighed at the end of my hitch (time period of 3-5 days). I did not know what to expect when I started and I’d like to share my results with you!

The Details

The study covered 7 hitches of work, so I had 7 trash samples to take out with me and I took pictures of each bag. Each hitch we worked in various locations, including sites down low by the trailhead and at our high site at approximately 13,700 feet. I wanted to conduct the study in July and August, knowing from CFI’s traffic counts that these would be the busiest months on the mountain.

Table 1:

Quandary Peak Trash Study
             Hitch        Quantity*
7/1 – 7/6 0.75
7/10 – 7/13 1.55
7/19 – 7/22 1.5
7/24 – 7/27 1.75
8/8 – 8/16 2.2
8/21 – 8/25 1.3
8/28 – 8/31 0.56


*Where the quantity is measure in pounds, rounded to the nearest hundredth for simplicity and accuracy

The Good

  • Honestly I expected a lot worse. Only one hitch supplied me with more than 2 pounds of trash.
  • Of the trash collected the vast majority was micro trash. With this distinction I can draw the assumption that much of it was unintentional.
  • There were numerous occasions where I saw hikers pick up trash and carry it off the mountain with them. Upon engaging those individuals they indicated that they lived in Colorado and were proud to perform a small act in order to keep the mountains clean.

The Bad

  • While most of the trash was found as if it had been left unintentionally, there were a few occasions where hikers had stuffed wrappers and food items underneath rocks in order to hide it.
  • Dog Waste: There’s no easy way to say this but I’m pretty disappointed in dog owners. Leave No Trace includes dogs. While I didn’t have the heart to pick up every dog bag that I found, please understand that if I did it would’ve changed the results of the study dramatically. People bag it up and leave it on the side of the trail…and there it stays. Please carry it out, there isn’t enough time in the summer for biological waste to decompose, it just sits there…
  • Trekking poles: The biggest contributors to non-biological trash on the mountain were the rubber tips of trekking poles. Found at least 20 of these guys. I assume because they are removable they do fall off, but I wasn’t expecting to find so many.

What People Can Do

  • Be vigilant. It’s hard to remember everything all the time, especially when you’re trying to suck in air in the alpine. When you take breaks make sure to do a quick visual sweep of the area you were in before hiking on.
  • Make it a mission to pick up at least one piece of trash you find on the mountain (and any 14er in general) and take it out. Leave the mountain in better shape than when you found it.
  • For the more popular mountains, start a conversation about trash cans at trailheads with local officials. Quandary’s parking lot has a port-a john but no trashcan.
  • Find out more about the alpine! It’s a fascinating and extremely delicate eco-system: the more you know, the more you’ll feel compelled to help sustain it.

Additional Notes

  • Outdoor culture is alive and thriving in Colorado. With more people relocating to the state its incredibly important to stress how valuable and beautiful these alpine locations are. Let’s work together to keep them that way!

Timo Homlquist

Hello all!
My names Timo Holmquist. I grew up in Georgia, and went to the University of North Carolina at Asheville for my undergraduate degree. I started my outdoor career at the ripe old age of 10 when my dad introduced me to the Adirondack 46ers hiking challenge in northern New York. Since then I’ve embarked on many hiking and backpacking escapades throughout the Southern Appalachians, the Sierra Nevadas, Rocky Mountains, and even in the Alps of Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The outdoors have always been a part of me and always will be. After years of traipsing through the backcountry I decided that I wanted to find the most beneficial way to give back to the outdoor world that had given me so much. In 2015 I embarked on 20 week Conservation Corp crew. That experience rolled over to this year and my participation in CFI. I am a prolific outdoorsman, adequate skier and love traveling, I also recently got engaged and look forward to exploring the world with my fiancee and partner in crime!