Escapists’ utopia, adventurers’ dream, explorers’ great unknown. Wilderness is a subjective thing. Look it up in a dictionary and it’s blandly written off as a ‘wild uncultivated area’ – more ‘unkempt allotment’ than Mongolian steppe. To a traveller, the word carries far more depth and meaning. Wilderness is one of travel’s ‘tingly’ words, guaranteed to titillate the weariest of globetrotters. It is the promise of remoteness, the challenge of a new frontier, the privilege of glimpsing wildlife that knows no boundaries and of scanning a wide, unblemished horizon.
People will always crave the pristine beauty, spiritual renewal and sense of escape that accompanies a journey somewhere totally removed from the noise, pollution and clutter of everyday life. And, ironic as it may seem, the best way to preserve wilderness is to give people direct experience of it. Only then can they develop the empathy and enthusiasm that’s so vital for ensuring its future.
Wilderness? I didn’t think there was any left.
It’s true that humans have laid claim to the most far-flung places on earth, mapped each one from space and wrought a great deal of environmental havoc, but large swathes of wilderness do still exist. Every continent has wild places full of opportunities for the adventurous traveller.
Call me a wimp, but I’m no Ranulph Fiennes. Rope burns and frostbite are not my idea of a holiday.
No one is suggesting you set off solo across the Arctic wastes. There are plenty of operators that specialise in taking small groups into wilderness areas and bringing them out again, fingers and toes intact. Safety is their paramount concern. Just make sure you choose a reputable company that employs expert local guides, uses the best possible equipment and practices environmentally responsible tourism.
Will I have to carry my own backpack, eat dry meals and sleep in a coffin-sized tent?
No. On some trips you can play the pampered explorer, staying in luxury wilderness ecolodges and comfortable camps. It’s a matter of taste and budget. Having said that, however, I would urge you, at least once in your life, to set off into the wilds with everything you need carried on your back (or strapped to a horse, stowed in a kayak etc). There is something wonderfully liberating about travelling lightly through a wilderness. Your daily rhythm synchronises with natural cues, such as the passage of the sun, the rise and fall of tides and the movement of wildlife.
That’s all very well if you’re Ray Mears...
You could always learn more about bushcraft by joining one of Ray’s Woodlore courses. Naturally, it’s vital that you know your limitations. Never embark on a wilderness journey unless you are fully prepared for what lies ahead.
What if I break my leg in the middle of nowhere?
On an organised trip your group leader should have enough first aid experience (and appropriate kit) to deal with most injuries – at least until some kind of emergency evacuation procedure kicks in. Make sure your travel insurance is comprehensive enough to cover the activities you’ll be doing.
Wilderness would be fine if it wasn’t so wild. Tell me I’m not going to be molested by mosquitoes, ransacked by racoons or beaten up by bears.
To be frank, most wilderness travellers who run into trouble with the local wildlife ask for it! If, for example, you are hiking in North American bear country it’s sensible to take precautions like wearing bear bells or clapping your hands (to warn animals of your approach) and suspending your food (and other high odour items) out of reach of a bear on tiptoes. Similarly, venturing into a swampy region without mosquito repellent, long-sleeved clothing and a head net is asking to be bitten. It all comes down to researching your destination, understanding the wildlife and taking appropriate safety measures. Of course, there are several wilderness areas where you’ll find yourself dislodged from the top of the food chain by predators such as big cats and polar bears. While this undoubtedly adds a certain thrill factor to the experience you must treat these creatures with the utmost respect. Read more about dangerous animals.