Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Aldo Leopold Society: Camp Catharsis, Day 1

The notion of wilderness as a gateway to catharsis has been around since Biblical times, as both Moses and Jesus sought repose in the wilderness. The concept retains its significance to the present day, with wilderness providing an environment of physical hardship where spiritual catharsis occurs -- a place to relieve emotional tensions.

The idea centers on the belief that those in need of consolation can find respite from the pressures of civilization -- a sanctuary, if you will -- in the wilderness. So on Monday, August 17, a group of us from the Aldo Leopold Society departed from the Phelps Creek Trailhead in the Glacier Peak Wilderness to seek renewal and restoration.

They came from hither and yon to honor the 50th anniversary of The Wilderness Act: New Hope, Pennsylvania; Pioneer, California; Anchorage, Alaska; Austin, Texas; Eugene, Oregon; Boise, Idaho; Toronto, Ontario; and Seattle, Washington. For many, the journey provided the type of emotional relief only wilderness can provide.

In the planning stages for months, the day had arrived: nine of us hit the trail together again for the first time in over 30 years. For some, it was an opportunity to purge the demons -- whether recovering from a relationship gone bad or the loss of a loved one, or simply satisfying a desire to expel the ills of society, providing a measure of peace.

Considering that we all worked with horses, mules and burros back in the day, it was only appropriate that Doug Baldwin and Connie Cook reserved a pack string, along with the attendant wranglers, to transport fresh food, in addition to a generous supply of wine, beer and other spirits, such as Cowboy Punch (vodka with lemonade).

Departing at just after 10 a.m., the weather was perfect: cool and windy enough to keep the black flies at bay, but delightfully sunny nonetheless. Most had arrived in Spider Meadow by 1 p.m., but a downed log near the one-mile marker had delayed the wranglers, who were breaking in a rather rambunctious new mule.

While a few of us waited patiently for the arrival of the pack string, others struck out for a quick hike to Upper Phelps Creek where, despite the excessive temperatures in the area during the summer of 2014, snow still stubbornly clung to the shadowed areas of the high mountain basin. The water in the creek was cold and delicious.

Later, we established our base of operations for the next several days, dubbed “Camp Catharsis” by one irreverent comic. Our little tent city resembling a homeless encampment was comprised of “the bottom one percent of the 99 percent,” noted another self-deprecating wag. Hey, if the boot fits, wear it. And pray for no blisters.

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