Why Wilderness? Why Solo?


After spending the night in a pleasant meadow around 9,000 feet, I woke up to a warm blue sky day.  This warm, sun-drenched morning arrived not a moment too soon, for I was in need of a good washing.  After laying out my clothes in the grass for a bit of solar laundry, I headed down to the creek for a bath.  Walking barefoot through the soft grass, I found a smoothly carved granite pool.  Quite the perfect nature’s bathtub.  Afterwards, a bit of sunbathing on the rock ledge beside the pool.  It’s moments like these that I realize it’s a Monday.  Lyrics to the great John Prine song pops into my mind, as it often does on similar occasions.  ”It’s gonna be a long Monday.  Sittin’ all alone on a mountain by a river that has no end.  It’s gonna be a long Monday.  Stuck like the tick of a clock, that’s come unwound.”  Yes, the rest of the world is at work.  The unlucky ones anyhow.  But today, I have a big decision to make.  Should I leave this meadow?  Or should I just lie on this rock ledge all day?  I choose to stay.  This morning air is just too perfect to move.

An hour later, I pack it up and hit the trail.  For there is much more of the Wind River Range to see!  The trail takes me upward and onward as the lower forest starts to open up again with a new view of the continental divide.  This is one fantastic range!  I climb through smooth glacier carved passageways in the rock, and then through a boulder field with a tumble of rocks the size of school busses.  What a sound there must have been when these rocks came crashing down!

After a couple of hours on the trail, I came upon a young girl riding a horse with two more horses in tow.  All loaded up with supplies.  This was indeed a “work day” for her.  Her job was to deliver supplies to campers in the mountains.  What a fine summer job I thought to myself!  But I couldn’t help but thinking, are these campers handicapped?  I didn’t ask her that question, but I had a pretty good idea that these were normal people hiring a pack service to drop them off in the backcountry on horses.  Then periodically having their supplies refreshed as needed.  Well good for them.  I had no idea this type of service existed.  And luckily for this girl it does!  Although I much prefer hiking to riding a horse, I can’t say this would be a bad way to spend a work day.  We talked for a while as we shared the trail for a mile or so before she turned off to meet her party.

Soon after, I arrived at the South Fork of the Little Winds River.  A much-anticipated and exciting moment.  For here, the main trail would be left behind for some cross-country hiking.  My map showed that if I followed this river up the valley, I would arrive at 2 alpine lakes.  The South Fork Lakes.  Some of the very best adventures are off trail.  And solitude is usually guaranteed.  As soon as you leave the trail, the terrain often gets even more pristine.  This route was no exception.  Flowers of brilliant yellow, purple, and red filled my river valley.  Tall grasses, dark green in color, brushed by my legs as I marched on.  Soon the trees opened up into a large boulder field.  Past the boulder field, the sprawling lake basin unfolded.

The map referred to this area leading up to these lakes as Ranger Park.  I’ve always wondered what they mean by “Park” in a wilderness.  Does it mean meadow?  Is there a swing set?  Rides?  Refreshments?  I finally decided a “Park” in the wilderness must mean a sun-drenched meadow, surrounded by breathtaking vistas, happy chipmunks, a sparkling river, and fairys sprinkling fairy dust upon those lucky enough to arrive at such a place.  When I arrived at South Fork Lakes in Ranger Park, this description I had jokingly conjured up was actually not far off.

I made camp on a grassy knoll right between the lakes.  Situated just right with a view of both lakes, the cirque behind me, as well as down the river valley towards mountain ranges far beyond.  Cape Solitude.  As Ed Abbey would call such a place.  It’s only 3pm and I’ve got the entire afternoon.

A question I get again and again about solo backpacking is “don’t you get lonely out there all by yourself?”  Let’s explore this question.  What is happening when you get lonely?  Where do you feel loneliness in your body?  Is it in your stomach?  Your chest?  Your head or your toes?  Most people never give themselves the chance to ask these questions.  At the first spark of loneliness, we pick up the phone.  Get on the internet.  Knock on the neighbor’s door.  Or start a project.  What about when you feel bored?  Or depressed?  Or angry?  Sad?  We are constantly running from our emotions.  From ourselves.  We live in a society of quick fixes.  There’s always a pill for depression.  A gadget for boredom.  The telephone for loneliness.  The pub for sadness.  We are afraid of being with our emotions.  With ourselves.

While in college, I took a semester course with Outward Bound.  Three months in the Wilderness.  An experience that very much helped form who I am today.  The part of the course that I feared most was the mandatory 3 day solo.  I did not want to do it!  Three days with myself.  No one to talk to.  What will I do!  Long story short, I came out of those three days knowing myself much better than ever before.  I had the chance to just be still with who I am.  And who are you when you take away all the gadgets?  All the friends and people you know?  All the activities you do?  Your job?  Your status?  Your gender?  Your name?  Who are you???

I believe this to be question that is very important to many people.  Who you think you are and who you truly are often two completely different things.  We believe that we are our story.  Everything leading up to now.  Our past.  Now take away your story.  What’s left?  We search for an answer.  We pick up a spiritual book.  We surf the web.  We call a friend.  We run from this answer!  Let me offer you this.  What if you stopped searching for an answer to that question and just waited for one to come?  Just sat patiently and waited.  Watched.  Listened to the sounds around you.  Gazed at the sights.  The colors and the shapes around you.  The lighting.  The flowers.  Soon you feel the breeze on your face.  The sun on your back.  Then stillness.  Deafening silence.  Then a bird.  A mountain.  Flowing water.  The sky.  Passing clouds.  A rainbow.  A hiker on the trail.  Horses.  Deer.  A Marmot.  A Pika.  Dew on a blade of grass.  Love.  Love.  Love.  Love all around you.  Pure love.  Exquisite perfection.

You are here to be who you are.  No more.  No less.  A flower is here to be a flower.  A bird is here to be a bird.  A butterfly is here to be a butterfly.

And you are here to be you.


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If you’d like to follow me on the rest of this amazing and spiritual journey, please SUBSCRIBE to my blog.  You can easily do so in the upper right hand corner of this page.  The plan is to post one entry onto the blog each week from the trip.  Any feedback or comments would really be appreciated.  Also if you could let me know which posts are best for submitting as editorials too.  Enjoy the ride!

~Scott Stillman


Why Wilderness? Why Solo? — 2 Comments

  1. Ahhh, thanks for the reminders! Such a freeing perspective to just be who I am in this moment – no story, no running from or towards something I am not. I am grateful to be in this relationship of freedom and expression with you. ♥

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