9 Steps to a Successful Wilderness Trip

1. Choose a friend with no camping experience. Your choice of companion is key. He or she should be strong, durable, positive. Willingness to follow orders a bonus.

2. Forget the navigational guides. Both of you have a list of stuff to bring. Your jovial comrade, however, does not think to mention the absence of map, compass, or GPS until you’re heading off trail. For the next several days you will hike based on dead reckoning. Hopefully the emphasis is on reckoning and not dead.

3. Fail to check the weather forecast. You want to argue it was his job to check the forecast, but he can’t hear your cursing as you cling like a four-legged insect to a slick, moss-caked log and inch your way over foaming whitewater. And it’s not white water. It’s brown. You weren’t expecting rain, but here it is, pelting down like liquid marbles, swelling the rivers to epic proportions and flushing mud, branches, and your friend’s water bottle downstream.

4. Hike at night. Following the sound of your pal’s horribly off-key rendition of “Wagon Wheel,” you have three thoughts: Why did we choose this difficult route? Why are we still hiking at eleven-thirty p.m. in drenching rain? And why didn’t he bring a headlamp? This is when you discover that your “friend” has never been backpacking before. You take charge, shouldering him out of the lead.

5. Press on against all odds. Bushwhacking uphill, you know you’ll eventually reach your goal: the top of the ridge. Rumor has it the view is priceless. Trouble is, you’ve stumbled into a maze of foggy, flat muskegs that keep you wondering, “Haven’t we seen this tree before?” You try not to resent the lack of map, compass, or GPS. When the moss gives way beneath your chum and he plunges thigh high into stagnant black muck, you smile grimly. Better leave him for the wolves and carnivorous bog plants and save yourself. But his half-crazed whoops of exhilaration bring on pangs of guilt. You pull him out.

6. Don’t burden yourself with rain gear. “It rains in the rainforest?” You ignore his question and continue plodding in what you think is the right direction. Your friend’s jeans are streaming miniature rivers, torn by snarls of devil’s club, and soaked through to his boxers. You finally take pity on him and pull out your extra rain pants.

7. Leave the first aid kit at home. When your companion tumbles off a rocky ledge, you ask if he brought the first aid kit. You’re positive that was on his list. But, like rain gear, he forgot that too. You tear your extra t-shirt into strips and pack it with sphagnum moss. They say sphagnum has antiseptic qualities and was used in battle during World War I. If it doesn’t kill him, it’ll make him stronger. You kind of hope it’ll kill him.

8. Consider homicide. You contemplate a well-placed kick to his posterior as you toe along a precipice. Surely it would improve your own chances of surviving this expedition.

9. Admit defeat. When the time comes to acknowledge utter failure, you accept it gracefully. Hopefully you can find the car before you’re arm wrestling over the last of the provisions: a coagulated slice of pizza. You look at your companion, commando in your rain pants, unshaven stubble sticking out in patches around a toothy grin, hair dripping with rain and sweat. You doubt he’s ever felt so alive in his life. “Can we go out for pizza tonight?” he asks.

Emily Mount is a naturalist and photography instructor with Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic and a former national park ranger. She is a freelance environmental writer and photographer.

Comments

  1. These are great tips! The only other question I have is what quantity of drugs and alcohol should I bring.

  2. You forgot that you ignore all the pansy, Candy Assed, advice about not drinking out of streams without purification. If it was good enough for Robert Redford in Jerimiah Johnson, it’s good enough for you!

  3. You forgot the hint about navigating bu the stars at night when it is cloudy

  4. Beth W: Your pack is not big enough. Besides your “friend” will hog them all, anyway.

  5. Wow, I’m really impressed…
    This article makes me want to forget almost everything I “know” about the wilderness (geez… WHAT WILDERNESS ?? I live in Europe, and THERE IS NO WILDERNESS IN FRANCE…) and head off into my nearby mountains.
    Seriously, every time I hike with my technically well equipped with the latest gear, “knowledgeable” friends, I get a wistful feeling like… geez, it would be nice to be able to forget large chunks of all we think we know.
    As for the risk of dying… hey, what is life “worth” if there IS NO RISK of dying (or even… IF YOU NAIVELY BELIEVE that with your GPS/technical gear, etc there is NO RISK of dying…) ?…

  6. Hmm…sounds like the firewood gathering expeditions of my youth. But we had to carry chain saws.

  7. This is why, when we embark to go somewhere, regardless of the levels (or non levels) of experience, every participant lays the entire contents of their pack out for all to examine. Makes for a great story. And I have been studying Powell’s expedition down the Green and Colorado rivers. He would have appreciated the circumstances described in this story.

  8. While walking along The Wilderness Coast of the Olympic National Park remember tides come and go…when? Watch the water. Buying a tide schedule rules out the wilderness adventure of no escape.

  9. While walking along The Wilderness Coast of the Olympic National Park remember tides come and go…bit when? Watch the water. Buying a tide schedule rules out the wilderness adventure of no escape.

  10. I would add to this list the forgetting about the act of doing the trip altogether, forfeiting a recreation experience for the enlightenment of a nature experience. Always remember your place within the larger natural system that surrounds you. the true beauty of wilderness ought not to be found in the pure anthropocentric enjoyment of humans by themselves. Wilderness, as a place where humans don’t dominate, can remind us of the greater-than-human world and the other-than-human life that coinhabit this planet and that, sadly, we have so utterly diminished. Also, another tip: try going to a place not in the mountains; go to the flat lowlands — areas that are far less visited for some reason and at least just as rich in nature. Give up that mountain view and sublime summit on rock and ice for the lush closed canopy of a flat woodland.

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