The Value of Wilderness

Written By : Eric Bennett 

The global pandemic, infuriating racial injustice, and a polarized presidential election made 2020 one of the most trying and stressful years for all of us. It was by far the hardest year I have ever gone through, as I was dealing with a number of other difficult situations on top of everything else. But despite those challenges, it was also one of the best years of my life, as there were lessons learned, character built, and several events that changed me for the better. One of these highlights was a two week backpacking trip I did with fellow Coalatree ambassador, Kordell Black, deep into the most remote area of the lower 48 states. 
Creek running through a valley surrounded by grey mountain peaks
Kordell and I have known each other for almost 8 years now, and we make at least one or two backpacking trips together each year. Since we both have a deep love for wild and remote places, we have shared some amazing moments together and seen things that nowadays only a few people are lucky enough to witness. With fewer and fewer wild places left, our love for the backcountry–space, stillness, silence, wildness–has only grown since we met.

For years we had been wanting to reach several remote basins of our favorite mountain range. In this rarely visited section of the Rocky Mountains, there are hardly any trails, sign posts, or established routes marked on maps, so before we could embark on our dream route, we had to figure out on our own how we would get 40 miles into the range to reach the farthest point we wanted to go, and then get back out again. We studied our topo maps and Google Earth satellite images for months leading up to the backcountry season, looking for even terrain, climbable passes, and ways to connect several different areas that we had on our radar. We ended up creating a loop route that would take us through all the different locations we hoped to photograph and back out without needing to backtrack at all or hike way out of the way at any point. 

Man walking by a waterfall

We figured we would need 14 days to complete the loop and have time to stop and hang out in special areas for as long as we needed in order to create photographs in remarkable lighting. We packed our backpacks with camera gear, dozens of batteries, camping equipment, clothing, and the bare minimum amount of food to get by for 14 full days in the backcountry. We were heavily counting on being able to catch some fish like we usually do in order to supplement our frugal diet.

 The two week trip that ensued was by far the most incredible backpacking trip I have ever done before. In our 14 days we ended up covering more than 140 miles in the most remote parts of the range. We camped in areas that felt like a human being had never stepped foot in before, where animals and plants still had dominion. We saw magnificent peaks, enormous glaciers, exquisite light, and majestic wildlife daily. When we weren’t out hiking or trying to create photographs, we were soaking our sore bodies and feet in half frozen alpine lakes, or pulling out enormous golden trout which we cooked in tin foil on our small campfire, or simply sitting at camp and staring as shadows and light cascaded down upon the landscape, accentuating jagged spires and illuminating shiny, silver granite faces.

Eric Bennett catching a fish on the shore of a lush green river

I went into the mountains that summer going through more challenges than I thought I could ever deal with. Besides the two week trip I did with Kordell, I made several solo trips back into the same range as well as in the mountains close to my home near Salt Lake City, Utah. When I came back out from my last trip of the season, just as the mountains were getting quiet and lonely–ready for winter which was already making its first appearances–I felt mentally, emotionally, and physically prepared to navigate the turbulent storms of life once again. I am happy to say now that I am in a far better place, life is feeling easy, meaningful, and light again, and I know that came from my time spent in the mountains.

In the last decade, scientific studies have discovered the measurable, inarguable, real benefits that time in nature has on us. Many of these profound effects are still ineffable and elusive, but psychologists, biologists, and neuroscientists are all learning that nature affects the body and the mind on a physiological and chemical level. If you’d like to read more about these fascinating findings, you can visit my previous detours article titled “Forest Bathing:” or pick up a copy of the book The Nature Fix by Florence Williams.  

Purple, pink, and white wild flowers

With too many images, stories, and lessons to share in just a single article or in social media posts, I decided to put together an eBook, so that other people could partially relive our incredible adventure. So that people could see the true value that wilderness has, and want to have it kept pristine and intact. This has always been my motivation and goal with photography, to teach people the importance of nature. I hope you will enjoy seeing the rest of the images that I captured, reading the stories about them, and learning more about the profound wildness that we were immersed in. 

The mountains are now beginning to thaw once again, and backpacking season is just around the corner, you too can have your own adventure and experience the unsurpassed healing powers of nature. 

To learn more about my new eBook, visit:

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