When I tell people I’m this magazine’s Northwest Field Editor, that news is often met with guffaws and lewd language. That’s fair. Getting paid to sniff out trails in some of the most achingly gorgeous places on Earth is usually worth every emerald-green drop of envy. I say usually because there’s also The Look.
Narrowed eyes, cloudy brow, oyster lips. It means I’m transitioning from like-minded wilderness soul to enemy in seconds. Whether perched on a switchback or a barstool, I watch as people connect the dots, realizing I’m the very jackal who’s about to nick their precious Lonely Lake or Desolation Pass or Mt. Effin’ Awesome and explain its whereabouts within the pages of this magazine. Sometimes they laugh it off. Other times they backpedal. Then there are the times when they plead, begging me to not write about their spot. And then I know I’m onto something good.
It happened when the tan Kiwi looked me in the eyes and said, “don’t go spoiling it, ’eh?” as we descended into a broad, grassy valley fringed by Yosemite-worthy crowns of stone, where I’d camp alone, avoid Routeburn hordes, and have my pick of glacier toe or alpine lake side trips (Theatre Flat, Rockburn Trail, Mt. Aspiring National Park, New Zealand). It happened again while making chitchat with the lone fisherman at my favorite quick-fix backcountry campsite near my Seattle home (Joan Lake, Wild Sky Wilderness, Washington). I delight in unearthing your secret place.
You may think I’m a monster, but I’m not heartless or indifferent to solitude seekers’ pain. Some of my own beloved stashes (Chicago Lakes, Mt. Evans Wilderness, Colorado) have gone from empty to packed in the decade since we, at this magazine, discovered them. I, too, cursed and kicked the dirt when I discovered my secret cliff-perch campsite was occupied.
I used to get mad about it, and sometimes I’m even still a little wistful for the lake that was. But that drives me to fill that void with another place, and then another, and then another. Because there are always more secret spots to be discovered, and finding them is half the fun. Sure, sometimes I’ll keep them to myself for a trip or two. But I’ve never enjoyed a secret spot alone quite as much as when I bring someone else. “Spoiling” it means that someone else gets to experience it, so every visit to a string of tucked-away tarns in a faraway North Cascades bowl can be like the first. Try it: Find a new hidden spot, and then blow it on someone who will appreciate it just as much as you do. You’ll be hooked.
The miserly pleasure of holding a secret spot to yourself isn’t anywhere near as gratifying as the prospect of sharing outdoor joy. Building constituency and ravenous fandom for wild spaces is too important a responsibility to get all Scrooge about any particular pile of soil. Backpackers remain mostly careful stewards, anyway, preserving the places they love with steadfast loyalty. But if hikers don’t know about a spot, how can they protect it?
Besides, tip-top wilderness treasures are their own best defenders. They usually require up-front investments—time, sweat, skills—that fence off the rubes and bond the committed. I boast about Theatre Flat, but did I mention the part about mud pits, sandflies, and a faint trail that constantly evaporates into the bush? I’ve been belting into a megaphone about the North Cascades forever, but—despite my best efforts at spreading Washington’s gospel—its steep passes and raucous weather safeguard its gems; only Isle Royale, with its obligatory ferry, sees fewer national park visitors in the Lower 48.
So yes, I may be a spoiler of the highest order. But, just as my kindergarten teacher said, it’s always better to share.