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The Wilderness Experience

Posted Mar 08 2011 9:00am
"How's it going?" I smiled and asked, a moment after stepping out of the skin track.

"Great," the guy said, passing me on his way up. "I just can't get enough of this wilderness experience," he continued sarcastically, "with all these people." He shook his head and skied away.

So here's a little bit more context for the story.

We were backcountry skiing about a mile from the Mount Baker Ski area.  We could easily see the lifts and the parking lot in the distance.  It was a beautiful blue-bird sky Saturday with very low avalanche danger.  And there were probably over 100 people adventuring into the backcountry near the ski area...

While enjoying the absolutely perfect day, we came upon a number of people who really felt that there were too many people out there, that their "wilderness experience" was being tarnished by the volume of backcountry users.

A Crew of Snowboarders and Skiers in the Baker Backcountry
Photo by Jason Martin

To be perfectly honest, I was astonished by the attitude of these individuals.

Certainly it is possible to have a wilderness experience relatively close to the road.  Certainly it is possible to have such an experience within a mile of a major tourist attraction.  But it probably shouldn't be expected.

True wilderness experiences require some work.  In the instance here, the individuals who want to find true wilderness would have found a tenth as many people two miles from the ski area in the backcountry, and may not have seen another person at all if they had ventured four or five miles away.

It is somewhat selfish to feel that you deserve a wilderness experience close to the road, but that no one else deserves such an experience. 

Some backcountry destinations preserve an area's character by requiring permits.  There is certainly a level of legitimacy for this, but in these circumstances (like the Narrows in Utah's Zion, or an ascent of Mount Whitney, or a tour of Washington's Enchantments, etc.) an individual is deep in the wilderness.  These areas are so popular that without a permitting process, even when you get away from the road, there would still be people everywhere...

Most of the nation's outdoor recreation takes place within a mile or so of a road or a parking lot.  As such, it is quite selfish to feel that you deserve a wilderness experience close to the road, and that to preserve that experience no one else should be able to play where you're playing. 

If you want remote wilderness with nobody around, you have to work for it...

Jason D. Martin
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