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Self-nourishment in a remote wilderness

September 9, 2012
By JOE HACKETT - Outdoors Columnist ( , Lake Placid News

In recent weeks, I've devoted a lot of ink to exploring the benefits of outdoor travel and the concept of wilderness within the Adirondack Park. I have challenged readers and raised many questions.

Obviously, most will agree that wilderness is defined by an individual traveler's outdoor competencies, as well as their state of mind. Despite the fact that wilderness standards have been established on the federal lands as a result of the Wilderness Act of 1964, there is as yet no method to provide a legitimate stamp of approval or definition to describe the necessary qualities or characteristics of an authentic wilderness.

In most instances, regardless of the degree of terrain, distance from civilization or the extent of old growth and vegetative cover, wilderness is still primarily defined by the personal perspectives of the traveler. Unfortunately, what may be one person's ideal of true wilderness may simply be considered another's backyard.

And while a taste of wilderness is by and large determined through a personal perspective, most travelers claim they will recognize it when they find it, regardless of any unnecessary signage needed to complete the label.

Travelers come to know true wilderness when they travel beyond the ordinary and are transported to a quieter, deeper and much older world. It is nearly impossible not to be moved by the solemn woods that compose a cathedral of true wilderness.

Travelers claim to have experienced it when they felt a tingle on the back of the neck or when they noticed a slight ping in the gut, which comes with the awareness of the many other creatures present.

It has been said that wilderness travel is a form of self-nourishment, a way for humans to feed an inner longing to return to easier, simpler times. It provides us with an easy and exciting method to escape the excessive seriousness of an increasingly technological world.

"Man's heart, away from nature, becomes hard; the Lakota knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans too."

- Luther Standing Bear

(c. 1868-1939)


The perfect setting ... almost

Earlier in the season, I spent a few days camping along the shore of a small pond. The remote location, more than 6 miles distant from the nearest paved road, is surrounded by a large parcel of interconnected private lands which have remained largely undeveloped for more than a century.

Although a few dirt roads connect the various parcels and numerous hiking trails have been established, a major portion of the woodlands consists of large, old growth timber, and the properties remain lightly traveled.

The kettle pond was formed thousands of years ago, when a huge chunk of glacial ice calved off and was covered in glacial till. It is surrounded by a relatively high glacial esker, which limits both noise pollution and the amount of ambient light pollution.

While tucked into the deep hollow of the pond, the acoustics were extraordinary and the crack of cedar popping in the fire rebounded off the surrounding bowl and resounded like a gunshot.

I could hear myself breathing at night, and the laughter of the boys echoed back from the hills in a series of eerie cackles. It was a wild experience in a wild setting.

For three days, and nearly two nights, our little group was completely detached from the world. We were unfettered from all modern conventions and the numerous contraptions that get in the way of life as it was meant to be lived.

Yet, on our last evening in camp, there was a steady stream of air traffic evident in the night sky, which was accompanied by the distant rumble of jet engines.

Likely, the flights were part of a military exercise coming out of Fort Drum. Whatever the case, the presence of flashing lights in the sky and the rumble of jets overhead unraveled the cocoon of our peaceful existence.

The incident served as a reminder that we can never escape the intrusions of mankind. While it did not ruin the outing, it certainly brought everyone back to earth. Previously, we had been "lost boys," living alone with only the yip and yap of coyotes and the occasional buck snort to remind us there were other visitors in our neck of the woods.


What do you think about Adirondack wilderness?

Here are some recent reader comments regarding the Park:

"Only 180,000 acres (of wilderness designated lands?) And people want more road access? I think closing roads and providing more opportunities for quiet and solitude is the right direction. To not hear a car is a rare that should be protected and expanded in today's world."

- C.B., Watertown, Conn.


"I just provided a trip up on the NFCT the scenery sells itself and the small towns around the lakes areas are classy, quaint communities.

"I think it's good to ask the question: Is it a true wilderness or is it the Adirondacks version of wilderness? Seems like everyone I've ever brought there considered it a wilderness trip. There are real consequences for both good and bad decisions out there, wilderness or not, it is still a long way from help and they knew it.

"I do believe around here we sell a wilderness experience based on the remoteness of the destination and the participant's level of skill and past outdoor experiences and achievements."

- T.V., Williamsburg, Mass.


"I share some of your opinions regarding the changing political designation of wilderness. I feel that arbitrary map designations do not have any bearing on whether or not an area should be classified as wilderness. As a friend once said upon returning from Alaska, 'you don't need a sign to tell you when you are in a wilderness area.'

"To me, wilderness is a feeling of separation from the anthropogenic world. The US Forest Service defines wilderness as being 5 miles or greater from the nearest road. By that definition the Adirondacks have little wilderness pockets, but not the vast tracts of wilderness that are often claimed. One thing that is certain, the intrinsic value of wild lands is growing each year."

- P.C., Wilmington


"I feel I need to make a comment on this topic. Although I am not sure if a true 'wilderness' area would be close enough to any road to be impacted, I feel that as long as there are Harley Davidsons running with straight pipes, there will be no wilderness experience here, or at least any real peace and quiet for any length of time. In my estimation, they are the single largest source of noise pollution up here. The arrogance and inconsiderateness of those people never ceases to amaze me."

- J.V., Ray Brook


"This is always a truly thought- and emotion-provoking topic with no clear answer. I am just so very happy to be coming up to camp today to the place that was magic to me in the 1950s as a kid and is even more so today at 67 years to explore what may be the 'imperfect' but undeniably real North Woods. Thank goodness for the Adirondacks!"

- B. M., Cortlandt Manor and Pottersville


"The Adirondacks certainly have a lot wild lands, but there is no true wilderness anymore. There's no place in the Park where a man can't walk out to a road within a day's travel."

- B.A., Saranac Lake


"While it is inarguable wilderness experiences will often be interrupted by human activity, the Adirondacks give us the basis to have them anyhow, sometimes in near perfection. You had yours, I had mine - and we both have at many other places throughout the Park.

"The values and policies and laws and ethics that have given us that opportunity in NY State must be argued over and fought for to the last.

"I think it is a very important issue and the better we understand what we and others mean by wilderness, the better it is for the Park, the people who live their lives here and those who visit here and - yes - wilderness itself."

- P.N., Keene Valley



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