The Chugach Mountains of Alaska

I’m currently in the throes of a historical inspiration kick. I’ve been digging into the journals and biographies of such pioneering badasses as Edmund Hillary, Bradford Washburn and Fred Beckey. The unifying theme is an enduring love for the natural world and a passion for exploring even the most difficult to reach parts of it. As notable as these aforementioned gentlemen in their strength, courage and spirit, I’ve found my new model for fully living every single moment spent outside in the words of John Muir in his autobiographical piece, Travels in Alaska. I could write all day about Muir’s ethos and exploits, but I’d rather let him tell it in his own words. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Intrepid John Muir:

On the Natural Cycle:

But out of all the cold darkness and glacial crushing and grinding comes this warm, abounding beauty and life to teach us that what we in our faithless ignorance and fear call destruction is creation finer and finer.

On Bad Weather:

It was raining hard when I awoke, but I made up my mind to disregard the weather, put on my dripping clothing, glad to know it was fresh and clean.

I tied my mountain shoes, tightened my belt, shouldered my ice-axe, and, thus free and ready for rough work, pushed on, regardless as possible of mere rain.

On Food:

After my twelve-mile walk, I ate a cracker and planned the camp.

I set off early the morning of August 30 before any one else in camp had stirred, not waiting for breakfast, but only eating a piece of bread. I had intended getting a cup of coffee, but a wild storm was blowing and calling, and I could not wait.

On Travel:

Most people who travel look only at what they are directed to look at. Great is the power of the guidebook-maker, however ignorant.

On Health:

I started off the morning of July 11 on my memorable sled-trip…feeling sure that I would learn something and at the same time get rid of a severe bronchial cough that followed an attack of the grippe and had troubled me for three months. I intended to camp on the glacier every night and did so, and my throat grew better every day until it was well, for no lowland microbe could stand such a trip.

On Rest:

I felt tired this morning and meant to rest today. But after breakfast at 8 A.M. I felt i must be up and doing, climbing, sketching new views up the great tributaries from the top of Quarry Mountain. Weariness vanished and I could have climbed, I think, five thousand feet. Anything seems easy after sled-dragging over hummocks and crevasses, and the constant nerve-strain in jumping crevasses.

My bed was two boulders, and as I lay wedged and bent upon their up-bulging sides, beguiling the hard, cold time in gazing into the starry sky and across the sparkling bay, magnificent upright bars of light in bright prismatic colors suddenly appeared…How long these glad, eager soldiers of light held on their way I cannot tell; for sense of time was charmed out of mind and the blessed night circled away in measureless rejoicing enthusiasm. In the early morning after so inspiring a night I launched my canoe feeling able for anything.

On Wilderness:

So abundant and novel are the objects of interest in a pure wilderness that unless you are pursuing special studies it matters little where you go, or how often to the same place. Wherever you chance to be always seems at the moment of all places the best; and you feel that there can be no happiness in this world or in any other for those who may not be happy there.

Armed with this latest infusion of inspiration, I aspire to seek the beauty in discomfort, the strength in hard work and the sublimity in everything the world has provided for our care and enjoyment.

I will also be continuing my search for inspiring people and stories. Please share your favorite people, books, quotes or thoughts in the comments below so that we may all benefit from those who have lived well before us, or inspire with their actions in the present.

7 thoughts on “When I grow up I wanna be like John Muir

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  2. I read this book and was also inspired. I am from Haines Alaska and Muir actually came to my town and sat down with Tlinget Chief Shathitch.. in the Chilkat Valley.I think was his name…at any rate..I felt a deep connection with Muir on this journey!

  3. Beautiful words and inspiration Scott, thanks for sharing. It lends a lot of clarity to the sometimes abstract experience of just being out there. Often I find the contrast between everyday life and standing on top of some remote peak is almost too hard to process. I end up spending half the drive back home just trying to convince myself it was really me out there, and it wasn’t some kind of sublime dream.

    I think there is a special kind of patience required to truly absorb the experiences we find out there. Probably something that takes a lifetime to really learn.

    I am often reminded of Galen Rowell – one of my biggest influences when I was a kid. I think he had a true understanding of the patience required to be a part of nature, rather than just a spectator travelling through.

    “What I mean by photographing as a participant rather than observer is that I’m not only involved directly with some of the activities that I photograph, such as mountain climbing, but even when I’m not I have the philosophy that my mind and body are part of the natural world.”

    He is best remembered for his photography, but his real mastery was his ability to be endlessly patient, whether it was waiting for the right time, or waiting for the right place.

  4. Thanks for this. Muir’s hilarious observation on guidebooks, their makers, and the attention of your average tourist reminded me of a quote from Saint Augustine…

    “Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.”

    Any journey is an ideal opportunity for personal discovery and growth. This quote is a nice reminder to reflect not just on what you find outside, but inside as well!

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