Respect the Earth: Don’t Cut Switchbacks!

The wooded trails of Mount Si are among the most heavily used in the entire state. We are incredibly fortunate to have such a treasure in the backyard of Seattle. I’ve climbed the old trail up Mount Si probably 40 times. Towards the top of the trail before it intersects with the standard route at the ridge line, there is a gentle switchback that has had an ugly cut through for as long as I can remember.

Professional trail crews build switchbacks on trails for a couple of reasons. They help moderate the grade of the trail and make it more pleasant to climb. They are generally safer. Most importantly though, they prevent the rapid erosion that can occur on a steeper trail that goes straight up the fall line. When hikers who either just don’t know better, or worse, don’t care, cut switchbacks, not only do these negative consequences ensue, but also, native vegetation (like Oregon Grape in this case) gets trampled. It’s disheartening to see the living earth wantonly trampled.

About a month ago, I decided to reclaim this switchback by closing off the cut through. I spent an hour hauling downed logs and brush and piling it up on both ends of the cut through – top and bottom. Yesterday, I returned to find that someone had worked hard to kick and lug aside the work I had done in order to save perhaps ten seconds on their route. What kind of person does this? Surely it required at least 2 minutes to move aside the debris I had piled. In this amount of time, the person could have hiked the standard switchback and journeyed much further up the trail.

If you come upon someone cutting a switchback, please politely consider speaking with them, not in a condescending or arrogant tone, but merely mentioning that if we don’t care for the trail systems, they won’t be there for us to enjoy in the future. Trail maintenance and parks in general increasingly face funding cuts due to budget shortfalls. Maybe start with an open ended question like – “Hey, would you like to help me preserve the outdoors for future generations?”



This is what it looked like when I arrived at this spot yesterday.


Respect the Earth!








Trail work is exhausting, but exhilarating. The birds sang their thanks to me throughout my descent back to the parking lot.











My just reward – a moment of tranquility on the way down, traveling through the boulder garden.
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