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SURVIVE: If I Only Knew Then…

Three decades of trial and error from our favorite battle-scarred adventurer.
Survival TipsSurvival Tips

Though it may sometimes seem otherwise, mountains are neither benevolent nor malevolent. They are rocks with a thin skin of snow and soil, plants and animals. We are one of the animals. Mountains care no more or less about us than they do about marmots or mountain goats. Mountains, in short, don’t give a ****, so we have to care for ourselves and for each other.

No matter what your motivations are for exploring the backcountry—physical rigor, mental challenge, spiritual solace, nature submersion—the onus is entirely upon you to watch out for yourself. Expect to be surprised. Expect things to go wrong. Expect to make mistakes. As my friend and backcountry historian Ken Cramer says: “In the outdoors, you work your way up, keep going farther and farther from the car, hopefully not getting in over your head. You have to take things in the right doses.”

When I tell him that I think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew more times than I can count, he scratches his dense gray beard and says, “Well, apparently not. You’re still here.”

“Luck,” I reply.

Ken grins and balances his long, lanky body on one foot.

“Well, you know what they say: ‘Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.’”


Mark Jenkins, formerly BACKPACKER’s Rocky Mountain Editor, is a contributing writer for National Geographic and writer-in-residence at the University of Wyoming.

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