When thinking about spending quiet time with one’s self, most people do not think about venturing into the wilderness for a multiple day trip alone. To most people, it must seem foolish, selfish or just plain unthinkable. I’m not quite sure what stirs me to go into the wilderness by myself, but I have come to realize that it is the only way I can truly re-create myself and cleanse my spirit.
I first started venturing into the woods alone during my years in California. The sheer beauty and majesty of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, that runs north to south for 400 miles in California, is where I spend most of my solo journeys. From the foothills through the alpine meadows and well above tree line into the high alpine regions, the Sierra Nevada has virtually thousands of miles of trail to explore.
As the Director of Outdoor Adventures at UCLA for many years, my role was to guide groups of students into the wilderness of California and beyond. Working with groups lends itself to many rewards as a leader, but can also be a challenge due to the experience level of your participants. A group leader must insist that the group can only travel at the speed of the slowest group member. As an avid outdoorsman, I can move at a much different pace by myself compared to leading groups of others.
This was one of the first reasons I started venturing out on my own, to be able to move at my pace, experience the things I wanted to do, and to be free of worrying about others while enjoying the peace and solitude the mountains offer.
“Only by going alone in silence can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust, hotels and baggage and chatter.”
~ John Muir
My solo journeys are normally backpacking trips into remote wilderness areas in search of high altitude fishing spots. The last trip I did was Kings Canyon National Park. A three hour flight to Los Angeles, followed by a six hour drive to the trailhead and the journey begins. On this particular trip, my journey started at Cedar Grove, and after spending the first night at the trail head to acclimate to the altitude, I walked north for eight miles while gaining 3400 feet in elevation. I then hopped around several alpine lakes for the next four days and three nights.
My wife struggles to understand my need to venture out into the wilderness alone, but since she has been on many trips with me, she understands the reason that nature is so close to my heart. She is always worried for me on my trips and there is a part of me that feels bad, but it doesn’t stop me. I often wonder if what I am doing is selfish and self-indulgent, but for me, the extreme solitude that wilderness areas offer is spiritual in nature. Eastern philosophies have taught me that the search for the higher self is at the core of human motivation. The higher self is that God-like part of us mentioned in the Bible, and in a Christian way of thinking, is called the soul. This constant search for my real self is truly what drives me. These solo trips are a time for true reflection without the constant chatter from a civilized society.
“Those of us who have spent time in wilderness are aware of the fact that there is something more to the wilderness than we ourselves can express. Wilderness is an instrument for enabling us to recover our lost capacity for religious experience…”
“We cannot today recreate the original “wilderness man” in shape form or habitat. But we can recover him because he exists in us. He is the foundation in spirit or psyche on which we build and we are not complete until we have recovered him…” ~ Laurens van der Post
One of the most common questions I get from family and friends about my solo wilderness journey is fear based. “Aren’t you scared to be out there all alone?” Fear is a state of mind you cannot let yourself venture into while on a solo journey. Understanding the environment I am traveling in, understanding the flora and fauna of my chosen area, understanding the potential weather in a certain area, and knowing I have the right equipment and supplies to keep myself dry, fed and sheltered all gives me great peace of mind. I can say that on one particular trip, as I approached my trailhead on an old dirt logging road in the southern Sierra Nevada, two mountain lions darted across the road. Although they were moving extremely fast, these two lions did remain on my mind for the entire night, as my tent site was only a mile from where I saw these beautiful animals.
“It must be a poor life that achieves freedom from fear.”
~ Aldo Leopold
As my children begin to get to an age where I can take them out into the wilderness, my days of the solo wilderness adventure will be few and far between. There is nothing more I look forward to than introducing wilderness travel to my two kids. The pure joy of knowing they both enjoy being in the outdoors as much as I do is what inspires me to further my quest for my higher self. I’m not sure at what age I will introduce the concept of a solo wilderness trip to each of them, but it is certainly a rite of passage they will need to experience during their time on earth.
Outdoor Recreation Director