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Nine Wilderness Hero Hikes

Nine hikes as big as the hearts of their namesake wilderness visionaries.

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Aldo Leopold was just one of the wilderness pioneers who helped blaze the way in the name of conservation. Here are a few places where you can follow the bootprints of other conservation heroes deep into the wildlands that bear their names.

William O. Douglas Wilderness,Washington

Freedom is a right Justice William O. Douglas held close to heart. Even the freedom to nearly meet your death in the wilds. In his book Of Men and Mountains, he writes, “We had accomplished the impossible…survived terrible ordeals…faced death down; and because of our encounter with it, we had come to value life more.” Born in 1898 in Minnesota, Douglas received a law degree from Columbia University and taught at Yale before being appointed to the Supreme Court by President Franklin Roosevelt. From the bench, and in the many books he would write, he continued to stand on the side of freedom and the freedom wild places represent. “Roadless areas are one pledge to freedom,” he wrote in My Wilderness. That pledge is kept today in the 168,000-acre William O. Douglas Wilderness.

On the trail: “Discovery is adventure,” Douglas wrote, and you will find a lot to discover on the 26.7-mile, one-way hike along the American Ridge. Despite its somewhat short length, it is a good, four- to five-day trip with enough elevation gain and loss to, as the guidebook says, “make your legs feel like canned hams.” All of that up and down does have its advantages, such as the view from the lookout atop 6,473-foot Goat Peak. If your “hams” have enough left in them, you can piece together longer loop hikes by combining this trail with others that share nearby trailheads.

Contact: Wenatchee National Forest, Naches Ranger District, 10061 Highway 12, Naches, WA 98937; (509) 653-2205.

Trail guide: Pacific Northwest Hiking, by Ron C. Judd and Dan Nelson. Foghorn Press, 340 Bodega Ave., Petaluma, CA 94952; (800) 364-4676; $20.95.

Ansel Adams Wilderness, California

John Muir called the Sierra the “Range of Light,” but it was photographer Ansel Adams who captured that light on film. Adams caught all the drama and exquisite beauty of wild places as far flung as Alaska’s Denali, Acadia National Park in Maine, the Maroon Bells in Colorado, and the sand dunes of Death Valley, California. But as with all artists, his best work would spring from his soul and his soul was in the Sierra. His photos were not only works of art but a powerful weapon in the fight for environmental causes. Articulate, energetic, passionate, Adams worked closely with the Sierra Club, lobbied politicians with the power of his words and photographs, and brought the beauty of nature into homes all over the world though his books and prints. His work and life was the inspiration for many of the finest photographers working today. With every click of their shutters, Ansel Adams is remembered.

On the trail: Flower-filled meadows with blossoms dancing in the breeze, high mountain passes layered in late-afternoon sun, diamonds of light splashing in rushing streams-this 230,000-acre wilderness area captures many of the magical qualities that attracted the lens of Ansel Adams. Try the 23.7-mile, one-way Koip Peak Pass Traverse. It includes four mountain passes, five alpine lakes, and enough flower-filled meadows to use up all of your film. Be prepared for lingering snowfields, cold stream crossings, mountain weather, and magic light.

Contact: Inyo National Forest, Mono Lake Ranger District, P.O. Box 429, Lee Vining, CA 93541; (760) 647-3000.

Trail Guide: 100 Hikes in California’s Central Sierra and Coast Range, by Vicky Spring. The Mountaineers Books, 1001 S.W. Klickitat Way, Suite 201, Seattle, WA 98134; (800) 553-4453; $12.95.

John Muir Wilderness, California

For more than a century, the voice of John Muir has rung like a bell through the conservation movement. As the founder of the Sierra Club in 1892, Muir and his words were a call to action. In his books of inspired prose, he made us stop and consider the beauty of nature and its effects on the soul. Some captured the wilderness in photographs, others in paintings. For Muir, his life was the work of art that most reflected his love of wild places–walking 1,000 miles through the Sierra with little more than a pocketful of rice, swinging from tall trees during storms, clinging to the edge of roaring waterfalls, all to experience nature firsthand, directly, and in all its raw beauty. He died in 1914, his heart broken over the damming of Hetch Hetchy Valley, but his spirit, his words, and the example he set still ring through the mountains he loved and in the hearts of all who love them still.

On the trail: When John Muir was asked in 1868 where he would like to go, he replied, “Anyplace wild.” Today, a good choice would be any of the trails within his 580,000-acre namesake wilderness. One particularly good place to look for his bootprints is the South Lake to Whitney Portal, a 92-mile, one-way hike that leads along the very crest of what Muir called “The Range of Light” and to the summit of 14,410-foot Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states. Although some sections of the trail get a lot of use, icy stream crossings, high mountain weather, and rocky summits give the hike a wildness that even Muir himself would appreciate.

Contact: Inyo National Forest, White Mountain Ranger Station, 798 N. Main St., Bishop, CA 93545; (760) 873-2500.

Trail guide: 100 Hikes in California’s Central Sierra and Coast Range, by Vicky Spring. The Mountaineers Books, 1001 S.W. Klickitat Way, Suite 201, Seattle, WA 98134; (800) 553-4453; $12.95.

Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana

He could hike 40 miles at a stretch, bag 14 Adirondack peaks in a single day, and talk the ear off any politician who’d listen to his wilderness ideas. Bob Marshall packed a lifetime of living into just 38 years. Born in 1901, he wrote books, explored Alaska’s Brooks Range, co-founded The Wilderness Society, and became a tireless voice for wilderness, all before his death in 1939. Marshall liked his wilderness big, and he sought places where a hiker could “spend at least a week or two of travel…without crossing his own tracks.” Today, the 1-million-acre wilderness affectionately known as “The Bob” pays tribute to the short but full life of Robert Marshall.

On the trail: If Bob Marshall could come back for a hike in the wilderness named for him, you can bet that trek would be a long one-perhaps along the remote and beautiful North Wall, a sheer 10-mile-long cliff of limestone and shale deep in the heart of “The Bob.” The well-maintained trail that winds along the base of the cliff can be hiked for about 9 miles, or make it part of a longer North Wall Loop hike that covers more than 50 miles, beginning and ending along the South Fork of the Teton River.

Contact: Lewis and Clark National Forest, Rocky Mountain Ranger District, 1101 Main Ave. NW, Box 340, Choteau, MT 59422; (406) 466-5341.

Trail guide: The Trail Guide to Bob Marshall Country, by Erik Molvar. Falcon Press, P.O. Box 1718, Helena, MT 59624; (800) 582-2665;; $19.95.

Lee Metcalf Wilderness, Montana

Lee Metcalf was known to his friends as a shy, gentle, sensitive man. But to those who upset him, he was a man with a voice like the “bellowing of an enraged bull.” In 17 years as a U.S. senator from Montana, he used that voice many times against the myriad of abuses he saw on public land. Overgrazing, air pollution, dam-building, migratory bird protection, wilderness protection-nearly every environmental issue considered by Congress in the 1960s and ’70s had Metcalf’s stamp on it. But nowhere was his voice heard more loudly than on the issue of logging versus wilderness. “I do not subscribe to the oft-stated notion that somehow timber exploitation represents ‘multiple use’ management but wilderness does not,” he said. Two Montana wilderness bills, passed just after Metcalf died, established the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, the Great Bear Wilderness, and the Bob Marshall Wilderness. True to his legacy, Metcalf had worked hard on both bills right up until his death in 1978. Five years later four units of wilderness were combined and renamed the Lee Metcalf Wilderness in his honor.

On the trail: The four units in the Madison Range that make up the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area include some of the best hiking trails in Montana. One of particular note is the 26-mile loop hike through the 78,000-acre Spanish Peaks unit. The hike takes you along the South Fork of Spanish Creek, through the shadows of many 10,000-foot peaks, and within striking distance of a whole collection of high-country lakes, if you don’t mind going off trail. For a different experience, try the 7-mile jaunt through the Bear Trap Canyon unit, the nation’s first Bureau of Land Management wilderness. Don’t forget your fishing pole since the trail follows the Madison River, an internationally known trout stream.

Contact: Gallatin National Forest, Bozeman Ranger District, 3710 Fallon St., Suite C, Bozeman, MT 59718; (406) 587-6920.

Trail guide: Hiking Montana, by Bill Schneider. Falcon Press, P.O. Box 1718, Helena, MT 59624; (800) 582-2665;; $14.95.

Frank Church–River Of No Return Wilderness, Idaho

Frank Church knew his way through the wilderness of Washington politics as well as any senator ever did. A renowned speaker on foreign relations, he also became a leader in wilderness legislation, acting as the floor leader for the 1964 Wilderness Act, writing the Wild And Scenic Rivers Act in 1968, and remaining a staunch advocate of many environmental issues until his retirement from the Senate in 1980. But even though most of his life centered around Washington’s Beltway, he never forgot the value of sleeping under the stars. “I never knew a man who felt self-important in the morning after spending a night in the open on an Idaho mountainside.” On April 7, 1984, just a few weeks before his death, Congress named the largest wilderness in the contiguous United States for the esteemed senator from Idaho, giving hikers 2.3 million acres of mountainside where they could hike, camp, and sleep under the stars.

On the trail: This wilderness is huge, containing parts of six national forests and more than 700 miles of maintained trails. The 43-mile (round-trip) Pistol Creek Trail will lead you through fields of wildflowers, past a succession of creeks (many bearing the names of guns such as Luger, Winchester, and Popgun), and to the banks of the Middle Fork of the Salmon, the fabled “River of No Return.” Deep snow and swollen-creek crossings can be a problem, so call for conditions. Because of the rugged terrain there are surprisingly few options for loop trips in this wilderness, although the Pistol Creek Trail can be linked with the trails up Indian Creek to create a 64-mile loop.

Contact: Challis National Forest, Middle Fork District, Box 750, Challis, ID 83226; (208) 879-4101.

Trail guide: Trails of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, by Margaret Fuller. Signpost Books, 8912 192nd St. SW, Edmonds, WA 98020; $14.95.

Aldo Leopold Wilderness, New Mexico

On the trail: On the same day that Aldo Leopold arrived in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest, fires were rampaging over Curtis Canyon and Granite Peak. Although he called fire “the scourge of all living things,” he held an affection for the natural process. Today, with the fire scars healed, the area makes a wonderful location for a hike through the southern section of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness. There is a network of trails radiating off Hillsboro Mountain (stop and ask for a tour of the fire tower there). Either FS 117 down East Curtis Creek or FS 114 down Holden Prong, with its beautiful waterfalls, will take you into the “blessed country” Leopold loved so well.

Contact: Gila National Forest, Black Range Ranger District, 1804 Date St., Truth or Consequences, NM 87901; (505) 894-6677.

Trail guide: There are no guidebooks dealing specifically with trails in this area, but call the Black Range Ranger District (above) and ask for a free copy of Black Range Trails and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness map.

Flat Tops Wilderness, Colorado

(One that should be named for the person who helped protect it, but isn’t.) – His co-workers teasingly referred to him as the first “Beauty Engineer” in the U.S. Forest Service. But Arthur H. Carhart was quite serious. Almost 60 years before the passage of the Wilderness Act, he believed wild places should be preserved simply for their scenery. In June 1918, the young Carhart was sent to Trappers Lake in the Flat Top Mountains of Colorado to survey the area for summer homes. Instead, he recommended the area be preserved as “wild land,” an idea that caught the attention of another young forester named Leopold. When the National Wilderness Preservation System was finally created in 1964, one of the first areas preserved was the 235,000-acre Flat Tops Wilderness, where the boundaries take in not only Trappers Lake but a whole lot of beauty.

On the trail: Although Trappers Lake gets all the attention, being one of the birthplaces of the wilderness idea, the Flat Tops has a lot of other great hikes. Try the East Fork Trail, a 14-mile, one-way trip along the East Fork of the Williams Fork River in the northern part of the wilderness area. There are great views from atop the 11,600-foot saddle separating the Williams Fork and Bear River drainages. The several river crossings also make pretty good fishing spots. Every time you stop to enjoy the scenery, thank Arthur Carhart, the “Beauty Engineer.”

Contact: Routt National Forest, Yampa Ranger District, 300 Roselawn, P.O. Box 7, Yampa, CO 80483; (970) 638-4516.

Trail Guide: Hiking Colorado, by Caryn and Peter Boddie. Falcon Press, P.O. Box 1718, Helena, MT 59624; (800) 582-2665;; $15.95.

Theodore Roosevelt Wilderness, North Dakota

Teddy Roosevelt was a man as complex as the landscape of hoodoos, buttes, and windswept plains that now make up the national park named in his honor. Hunter, conservationist, adventurer, author, soldier, father, Roosevelt took much of his philosophy of nature from his days spent in the Dakota badlands as a buffalo hunter and cattle rancher. As U.S. president, he set aside nearly 230 million acres of public land including national wildlife refuges, national forests, and national parks. In 1948, this stretch of badlands was designated a national park in his honor. Today, 19,410 acres of the northern unit and 10,510 acres of the southern unit are designated as wilderness.

On the trail: The longest trail in the park is the 16-mile Achenbach Trail in the North Unit. But don’t let the short mileage fool you. This park is well-suited to off-trail hiking with its wide-open horizons. You’ll need to know how to navigate in wild country, carry or find water, and since the Little Missouri River flows through both units, you may have to wade a bit.

Contact: Theodore Roosevelt National Park, P.O. Box 7, Medora, ND 58645; (701) 623-4466.

Trail Guide: The Theodore Roosevelt National Park Map lists trail options and gives short descriptions.

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