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How To Have A Great Wilderness Experience

By Entrada Outdoor Founder Phill Monson:

Over the last several months, I’ve been on what some have called a crusade against vandalism, litter and other bad behavior in our wild places. While I may not be able to change the minds of those who simply don’t care, I have worked hard to spread the message of Leave It Better, which encourages those who do care and who are responsible to take a proactive approach to help combat this problem.

I spend a lot of time thinking about why this is such an issue — there are arguments about social media being to blame (partly true), Broken Windows Theory (a fascinating subject you should look into) and other ideas, but one that I come back to is that I feel there is a lot of ignorance when it comes to people being out in nature and how to have an enjoyable experience while in the wild. I’ve thought about what principles could help and came up with these: Be Prepared, Be Present, Be Respectful and Leave It Better — I’ll break these all down below:

Be Prepared: Other than being a catchy song from The Lion King, being prepared is the foundation of a great wilderness experience. Knowing the weather conditions, terrain, places to see, appropriate clothing etc. are crucial to having a positive and safe time. Two stories come to mind here –

The Zion Narrows: My father and I usually take an annual trip to The Narrows for an enjoyable day of hiking and photography. We get up early to make sure we get to the trail head by 6:30am (ish) and can beat a lot of the crowds — having The Narrows to yourself for an hour or two is a spiritual experience. We were about two miles in when we saw a woman walking toward us, very disheveled and looking a little confused. We asked her if she was OK and found that she went up the night before to the campground with only a hammock to sleep in. She found that there was no way to hang the hammock, so slept on the ground with only the hammock as a blanket. Her food rations were dreadfully low from the start and she only went in with one bottle of water. Her clothing consisted of short hiking shorts and a tank top. Needless to say she was freezing cold, hungry and exhausted.

After giving her some water and a few granola bars, I asked her what she was thinking — she stated that she thought the desert was supposed to be hot so she didn’t bring much for clothing and thought the hike would be easy so food/water were minimum.

While the desert in summer is VERY hot, the Narrows are generally a cool 60 degrees with walking waist deep in the cold Virgin River and much cooler at night. This is a great example of not being prepared.

Escalante: A close friend and I were in the Grand Staircase Escalante a few years ago, one of my favorite place on Earth and also one of the least developed and most remote locations in the desert southwest. Over the years I have seen more visitors there, but most seem adequately ready for the harsh conditions. My friend and I made an early morning hike into Zebra Slot Canyon which many consider to be the crown jewel of the monument — after getting back to our car to head to another location, we saw a passenger car stopped in the road with the occupants looking very confused. We stopped to see if we could help — they asked us about a couple of hikes to which we let them know the various distances and difficulty. One response floored me: “So, it’s not just off the side of the road? Where are the paved parking lots? I thought we just parked and got to it…” For whatever reason, this group of people thought that the Monument locations were all readily accessible by paved road (most in the monument is 4x4 dirt roads). They had limited water and no idea about how to actually access the places they had seen on Instagram or other social media posts . We gave them some water and sent them on their way to some more accessible locations.

Not only is being prepared essential to enjoying your time in the wild, it can also mean saving your life.

Be Present: This may come as a shock, but your entire life does not need to be posted on social media. While it, of course, can be fun to share your stories and highlights with masses of people you don’t know, being tied up with posting to IG or snapchat etc. takes away from just being there. There’s been a popular saying I’ve seen float around with the likes of “You won’t find wifi here, but you’ll have a better connection,” which does sound like something you’d cut out of vinyl letters and put above your fridge. Still, I like the message. Selfies are fun — have at it to remember your trip. But, there is an incredible power in being present at the moment and focusing on what you are doing vs. feeling like you need to share what you are doing for likes. I recently read a news story about 1-star reviews on the National Parks that were almost comical — things like “Couldn’t find latte to save my life,” or “Not one McDonalds anywhere close.” That’s kind of the point, folks. I also discourage the trend of just showing up to get a photo then to be on your way, though this is more of an issue with photographers. There’s much more to it than getting a quick photo and I can promise you your appreciation for the wild will increase if you give it your full attention.

Be Respectful: If you grew up in the 80s like me you might remember Woodsy Owl, who (no pun intended) was a mascot for not littering. While the Woodsy mascot costume of itself was terrifying and the stuff of nightmares (go ahead and do a quick google search), he was a great tool that was geared to teach children the importance of not polluting with his catchy tag line of Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute. These days you don’t see much, if any, of our old friend Woodsy. While not littering and cleaning up after yourself seems like common knowledge, National Parks and other Public Lands have found increased litter and trash in the parks, trails and campgrounds to the point they don’t have the resources to combat the growing problem. Great effort has been put in by the Leave No Trace organization and reminders of “pack it in, pack it out” are normally at trailheads and campground posts. Still, the problem persists. I’ve shared through social media the many, many stories of vandalism taking place in the National Parks; from carving names in well-known locations, knocking over natural formations, blatant destruction, using acrylic ink to write a name or IG handle and the list goes on and on. Woodsy Owl is needed more than ever it seems though he might need a new phrase like “your mom isn’t here to clean up after you,” “Stop being prick.”

If you go out to these places, be respectful of the land — practice the principles of leave no trace.

Leave It Better Than You Found It: This is something that was taught to me as a young scout while on an overnight camping trip in the Mt. Hood Wilderness. As we hiked past a few campsites on our way to ours and eager to get some rest, my scout leader made us stop and clean up a site that was used the night before. There was some trash left over and we were instructed to pick it up and put it in our own bags to carry out. That lesson has stuck with me all these years later. Sadly, while leave no trace has done great work, it isn’t enough as these problems continue. It is up to those who are responsible to do some of the heavy lifting and clean up after others and in some cases help with restoration efforts to trails, campsites and other damaged areas.

Leaving it better calls for a proactive approach to ensure that these places are preserved for generations to come. While I could go on about the subject, I hope that the simple phrase of Leave It Better Than You Found It Is self-explanatory.

What would you add to the list?

This will be a continual subject I'll explore and expand upon more with a breakdown of our Adventure Responsibly philosophy. 

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