Wildness is a Necessity

Alzar School | 22.03.15

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.” John Muir


The last two weeks fulfilled many of my passions as an educator. As the Designated Program Leader for the Cochamo backpacking course, I got to craft intentional time with students in one of the most wild and raw Patagonian landscapes I’ve seen in all my travels.


Students split into gender groups for these weeks to facilitate individual and team empowerment. In pairs, students put their leadership training to practice as designated student “leaders of the day” for a 1-2 day itinerary.




Day one, student LODs orchestrated the final pack up and then motivated their peers to shoulder their homes on their backs for an 8mile hike in through temperate rainforest.


In the days that followed, student LODs used the “Decision Making Model” to hash out grueling day hikes through stone cathedrals and ancient Alerce forests (some trees over 3000 years old!).


They adopted trail names like “Iron Legs,” “The Riddler,” and “Salami Sloth.” Embracing a simpler life, they found freedom in necessity: Five days. One shirt. Two water bottles. One pocket knife. Headlamp. Bowl and spoon. Salami and cheese. And salami.

Stripped of the distractions of social media and the pressures of mirrors or the impulse to perform for the opposite gender, they began to rejoice in appreciation for beauty raw and wild. Cloud shadows racing across sheer rock faces. Green beards of moss dripping from twisted tree limbs. They dipped in numerous snow-melt lakes and “sounded their barbaric YAWPs” over glacial-carved valleys from granite summits.


Students taught each other backcountry skills like how to purify water with AquaMira and how the seven principles of Leave No Trace can apply to group backpacking and base camping. They met big-wall climbers and learned about environmental efforts to sustain the fragile wildness of the Cochamo valley like local hydro-electric projects and compositing toilets.


They pushed themselves past comfort zones and sweat through steep vine-tangled inclines. They supported each other on muddy descents and prepared meals for the whole team by headlamp-light.


At the end of a wild week, students reflected around a glowing “Nalgene campfire” on their accomplishments and self-realizations.

“What do I want to take with me, and what I want to leave behind?”

Students blew me away with their honest insights into the clarity wilderness can bring:


“I want to take with me the value of natural beauty. I know it will be hard when I go home, but I want to try not wearing makeup as much.” -HT


“I want to take with me the power of positivity in a group.” – MJT


“I want to take with me the idea that all of this beauty isn’t permanent or a given. That at any time this environment could be changed or ruined.” -AW



“I want to take with me the power of standing at the summit. I never thought I could do something like that.” – EF


“I want to leave behind the impulse to judge or make assumptions about an experience before they happen.” – MC


“I want to leave behind talking without thinking.” -AS


“I want to take with me the ability to speak up for myself.” – CM


“I want to leave behind my tendency to freak out right when anything goes wrong.” – LL


“I want to take with me the idea that it’s cool to be tough and camp as a girl.” – SH


“I want to take with me this whole place. I’m obsessed and I never want to leave.” – SA