Climb the mountains, and get their good tidings…-John Muir, 1901. A hundred and twelve years ago, when Muir wrote this quote, mountaineering, hiking, and being outdoors was limited to a small segment of the general public. Muir wrote these words, in part, to inspire the nation to venture outside into the wild, and to appreciate what existed there, in order that they could better preserve and protect it. Today, these while these words are still applicable they have become more of a rallying cry – “CLIMB THE MOUNTAINS! GET THEIR GOOD TIDINGS!” Being outdoors is more popular than it has ever been – and with such popularity comes hordes of people; these hordes make it hard to find the “good tidings” of solitude at times. However, as in Muir’s day, such solitude and good tidings can still be found in the mountains if one only knows where to look.
There are hikes in the world that are greater than hikes. They are greater than hikes because most of the time, they consist of distances that cannot be covered in a single day by a single person. These hikes are greater than hikes because even if the distance isn’t that great, the scenery and the natural beauty present on them demand that the individual attempting that hike stop, watch, and listen at what the world is telling them through trees, mountains, hills, meadows, streams, and every other natural feature. It is for these hikes that are greater than hikes that the backpack was developed; and the term “backpacking” invented. And, if you really stop and think about it, backpacking is one of the oldest “sports” on the planet; except that for eons, it wasn’t considered a sport – it was considered a way of life for humans to get from one destination to another!
Today, things are obviously a little different, but the lessons our ancestors took from spending time in the wild remain; carried through time by such luminaries as John Muir (“Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”) While backpacking is a vacation activity or sport to many people, it also is a reflection of a world-wide historic tradition of becoming one with nature at certain points in life. In this respect, there are backpacking trips, and there are areas that are known as “Great Walks”. To me, any trip of a day or more is a great walk, but while it is hard to judge, some walks are greater than others. In any event, the purpose of this section is to discuss some of the backpacking trips and great walks I’ve been on, in all forms – gear, directions, and everything in between. If you are considering getting started in backpacking, or attempting the great walks of the world, remember this: mountaineering is the freedom of the hills; backpacking is the freedom of everything. I say this because with the right skills, the right gear, and the right motivation, a person can roam forever with his backpack, stopping only to find food – much as people have always done. Backpacking, therefore, is a great freedom – and whether you do it for a day, or two days, I highly recommend it, and hope to see you on the trail.