Graffiti on Mount Elbert raises hackles
September 10, 2008
LEADVILLE, Colo. ” U.S. Forest Service officials and fourteener advocates are decrying several recent inscriptions left on Colorado’s highest peak written in felt-tip pen.
“Graffiti is something new,” said Forest Service peak manager Loretta McEllhiney, who is investigating the incidents on 14,440-foot Mount Elbert near Leadville.
Leaving graffiti on national forest land is considered a form of vandalism. Offenders could be charged with defacing government property, similar to shooting bullet holes in a Forest Service sign, McEllhiney said.
Authorities didn’t have to look far for one of the culprits, Lewis Daugherty of Fort Collins, who not only left his full name but also his e-mail address on a summit boulder in early August.
“I didn’t really know it was technically illegal,” Daugherty told the Summit Daily News, expressing regret for his actions. “It was my first fourteener. It was long hike. I was so happy I made it. I saw two other ones up there, and I just wanted to leave my mark. I didn’t know exactly it was wrong, and common sense-wise, I didn’t think about it.”
Other than the legal implications, observers suggest that popular summits would soon be a big mess if everyone decided to leave some sort of mark beyond signing a summit register.
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Common items left as summit mementos include plastic dolls and stuffed animals, McEllhiney said.
“I have carried numerous monuments off there, to the point of endangering my own welfare,” she said, describing how she once hauled a 100-pound granite block from the summit, sinking deep into a spring snowfield under the weight during the descent.
Daugherty, 21, soon found out how mistaken he was, as a discussion thread on a peak-bagging website immediately bristled with prickly comments about the markings.
“It was creepy,” he said. “Within seven hours, they knew everything about me except my Social Security number … Somebody even sent an e-mail to my boss.”
Aware of the comments pouring in at http://www.14ers.org, Daugherty posted a message to the site promising to go back and clean up the summit graffiti.
Daugherty said someone from a fourteener stewardship group contacted him shortly thereafter and offered to take him back up the mountain.
“I went back up there and tried to clean it off and turned over the boulder,” Daugherty said.
His second hike up the mountain, along with some insight into the Leave No Trace ethic, gave him a new appreciation for Colorado’s mountain environment, he said.
“I moved here from Kansas nine years ago. I thought it was just fun, going on hikes … I learned that there’s a lot more to it. People really care,” he said. “I didn’t know about Leave No Trace. Now that I’ve read it and understand it, it’s brilliant.”
Daugherty said he plans to try and hike several more of Colorado’s high peaks next summer, and he may volunteer with the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, a group aiming to protect the high mountain environment of those peaks.
And now that he is tuned in to the Leave No Trace ethic, Daugherty said he’s fired up to spread the word about low-impact hiking.
“Just let me know what I can do to help,” he said. “Everybody’s done something stupid in their youth. I tried to make it good. If I have to pay any more consequences, I will, with no shame.”
For more information on Leave No Trace: http://www.lnt.org/
Check out the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative here: http://www.14ers.org/
Mt. Elbert graffiti discussion thread: http://www.14ers.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?t=15405