Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A 360 Degree Experience

A 360 Degree Experience

by Kyle Coon


The fiery red, orange and yellow sun sinking into a bank of clouds--staining them brilliant hues of pink and purple. Laying back on the sleeping pad and gazing at the velvety black of the night sky with the sweep of the Milky Way slashing between the mountain peaks. Standing atop a mountain and watching as the towering black thunderheads come racing toward you with the bright bluewhite bolts of lightning leaping between them. Quite often, these sights are what the photographer, the writer and the city dweller want to see and hear about. But when we lace up the hiking boots, strap on the pack, and set off into the backcountry, we're experiencing so much more.

I remember standing on the side of Mt Hood. And while Brad was describing the sunset to me I felt the wind rise. I felt the sting of little bits of snow hitting my cheeks. That night I heard and felt the wind begin to whip around the tent.

Working at a summer camp in Colorado, I remember rolling out my sleeping bag and pad out beneath the stars. Laying on my back I felt the warm glow of the fire as the temperature began to drop. I breathed deep through my nose and smelt the smoke rising from the fire, the sweetness of the pondarosa pines and aspens.

You don't have to be totally blind to experience the wilds in 360 degrees. When you close your eyes and think about your most memorable trip...what do you think of?We love the visual and pictorial gems that the backcountry offers. But when we think about those spectacular trips we think about how hard we worked to accomplish that goal. We think how our feet ached at the end of that 16 mile day climbing over 3000 feet of elevation. About how the backpack seemed to dig into our spine and the waist belt seemed to eat away at our flesh. How did the ground feel as you turned in the sleeping bag trying to find that comfy spot.

And yet when we pull out the camera or photo album those feelings and sensations aren't apparent. That crazy, cool, rad rockface with the colors of the rising sun flashing on it...go up and touch it. Trace the cracks and grooves. Feel the rock go from glassy smooth to rough and broken with jagged edges.

Those brilliantly colors leaves and clusters of wild berries...Press your nose to them and inhale. Pick a wild blackberry or strawberry and taste it. Let the texture and the juices roll over your tongue and slide down your throat.

Instead of peering through those binoculars or tromping around looking for that monkey critter in the treetops or trying to catch a glimpse of that hawk soaring thousands of feet above you...Sit on a rock or a log. Prop your pack behind you, close your eyes and open your ears. Listen to the chatter of the squirrels. Listen to the cry of that hawk as he wings overhead. Listen to the silence. The wind rustling through the grasses and the leaves, blowing over seemingly desolate landscapes.

The backcountry experience is so much more than that elusive photo or a beautiful view. We have six senses: sight, smell, sound, taste, touch and wonder. But the sense of wonder is only possible by using all of your first five. So the next time you're taking a walk in the woods, pause for a few minutes and close your eyes. Let your other senses broaden and find your sense of wonder in 360 degrees.