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Wilderness Ethics

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  • Wilderness Ethics

    I know this is the title of a book by Guy & Laura Waterman. While I don’t agree with everything in the book, it certainly does bring up some though provoking topics. For those not familiar, its basically a glimpse into the authors philosophy about “keeping the spirit of the wilderness” alive during our recreation activities within them.

    A recent -THREAD- (on anther site), based on a recent -EVENT- got me thinking about one such topic as it relates to kids (or new people) in the backcountry. Perhaps this is too weighty a topic for here (I guess I’ll find out by the responses, or lack thereof ) but here goes. Do any of you feel some a sense of additional responsibility when introducing children (or new hikers) to the backcountry?

    Many of us have introduced children (either our own, nieces, nephews or neighbors), or even adults (girlfriends, boyfriends , coworkers, etc) that have little or NO outdoors experience. Our intentions are usually good, we want them to experience the things we fell love with (sweeping vista’s, babbling brooks, peaceful woods). Do we ever give thought to “the other things”that wilderness entails. And I don't beyond mean basic safety?

    The article describes how a young kid basically got “scared to death” when he (and a counselor) unexpectidly confronted a (non agressive) bear in the woods during a camp outing. I’ll deliberately avoid talking about that situation to avoid being judgmental and I’ll make another relate.

    Recently, my son was coming off Redfield at dusk several minutes ahead of the group. He came “face to face” (in his mind) with a foraging bear. The bear never acknowledged him and eventually lumbered off. Now, my son has been hiking since he was 7, is an advanced boy scout and is 3 mountains shy of the coveted 46. However, when the group caught up, he was just a wide-eyed, very scared and all alone 13 y/o clutching his 3’ pocketknife in the waning daylight. That's a lot of "wilderness" for some folks.

    He did everything right and in time, he has come to look back on that incident as “totally kicking” (or whatever they say nowadays) but I (as an adult) understand the line between that and “Dad, I really don’t want to do this hiking thing anymore” is perilously thin. Have I done all I could to prepare them for everything "wilderness" means?

    I guess I’m just curious what you all think, do YOU, as the “seasoned hiker” ever think about these things when you introduce new people (particularly kids) to the woods, or do you just hit the trailhead and hope for the best? Feel free to share any like-minded stories.

    Interesting (to me) to think about.
    "I can feel your anger. It gives you focus. It makes you stronger. " Supreme Chancellor

  • #2
    I try to "prepare" the uninitiated mentally prior to backpacking. By that I mean I tell them what to expect, what can happen if unprepared (blisters, hyperthermia, etc). I also try to put them at ease by telling them that if they are properly prepared they wilol have an enjoyable experience.

    I also insist on certain things. I will not take anyone with me if they do not have the proper clothing and basic gear and a pair of shoes or boots suitable for hiking. I also insist they have a compass and I will teach them how to use it and a topo as we hike.

    I also make it perfecly clear that I expect any "suggestions" I make in the field to be followed to the letter. Explanations will come when necessary. I feel that I am 100% responsible for their safety and welfare.

    Finally, I plan and execute the trip at a pace that I am sure they can handle (this varies with the individual). I don't give them more then I know they can handle.

    I also approach it with the thought that what they experience, learn on this trip will pretty much decide if they wish to pursue backpacking in the future. I try to make it as enjoyable as possible, good scenery, decent trail, not too demanding, but enough of a chhallenge to understand it's not a cakewalk. Finally, I try to plant an understanding of the "basics" of safety, cortesy, and the "leave no trace" philosophy.
    "If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it." Lyndon B. Johnson


    • #3
      People should expect that the possibility is out there that bears could or might be a problem. We are in THEIR territory! Not the other way around. A lot of inexperienced campers/hikers think of car camping when people talk about camping. Un-initiated or inexperienced people or even the naieve (sp?)should be given a forewarned speech and made sure that they have gear that should make their life and chances better than zero. But the experienced and semi-experienced should know better and familiar with the expected risks taken when going into the wild.

      Yes, it is our responsibility to let people know. But if you don't take SOME risks, sometimes it will never give those people the chance to fall in love with the things that got us to fall in love with the outdoors in the first place. I suppose it would be the experienced persons resposibility to reduce as many of the risks as possible and then get out there and have fun!