In The Footsteps of a Saint
“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
― John Muir, John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir
It’s a spring-like afternoon in Seattle and from my desk I can see across Puget Sound to the spectacular Olympic Mountains. I'm sitting here pondering, that four months ago, I recieved an enquiry about a book - A book which I immediately knew I wanted to try and write. Now, all of a sudden - I'm leaving in two weeks on the longest expedition I’ve ever done. I won't lie, I'm a wee bit flustered - but I'm really excited as well.
Expedition and Book:
For once, the adventure is not about a particular mountain or place or trail - it’s about a dream I’ve had for most of my life, an opportunity to immerse myself in nature writing, to create something that will make a difference to my community. I want to write a story to advocate for the gifts of access to nature, gifts that I've received so freely and that go deep into my passion for wild places and the benefits they offer. It's my belief that these places are important for everyone.
To paraphrase the Father of our National Parks, I’m going out - and I’m going in. I’m taking a pilgrimage and writing a story about how important nature was for John Muir - and how important it is in our lives. I’m determined to learn about a person who gave his life to forging a vision which resulted in the creation of a movement, a movement which has provided millions of people, the gift of our most treasured and beautiful places for everyone to use.
I want to explore more deeply, my own relationship to nature, the forests, mountains, deserts and universe which Muir wrote so eloquently about. I want to test my resilience in digging deep into the heart of the story of Muir and of the nature movement. To this end, I want to immerse myself in nature, live simply, with a few basic comforts - and to walk across a country that I’ve called home for twenty years.
If I am successful with this first phase, I will then travel to Scotland - where I grew up - and where the story of John Muir began. The last days of the expedition will be along the same beaches where my brother and I grew up, where my grandparents did the same - and where John Muir discovered his love of nature.
Moving from Scotland to Wisconsin, Muir trained as an engineer and worked in that field until he was injured in a workplace accident which almost cost him his eyesight. Referring to this close-call he wrote, “Sometimes God has to almost kill us - to make us learn lessons”. After his recovery, he set off from Indianapolis and walked to the Gulf of Mexico and ultimately to California. He never looked back - and from that point forward, he devoted his life to exploring nature and protecting public lands for future generations.
In The Footsteps of a Saint
‘In The Footsteps of a Saint’, is the name I’ve given to my expedition and the story. The plan is simple. To begin walking from the southern border of the United States and head north using the US National Trail System. I intend to do a continuous hike of just over 3000 miles - and climb some of the iconic peaks that Muir climbed in his lifetime. I'll be hiking with his journals as well as journals of Thoreau and Emmerson, who Muir considered role-models for his work.
While Muir is known as a naturalist, botanist, hiker and writer, he was also a highly accomplished Mountaineer, with first ascents including Mount Whitney (Mountaineers Route) and Cathedral Peak (first recorded technical climb in USA) among others. He climbed Mount Shasta twice, attempted Mount Hood but never saw it’s summit. His climb on Mount Rainier, at age 50, paved the way for the creation of the National Parks Act.
As closely as possible I’ll attempt to replicate the routes taken by Muir himself including a tribute climb as part of a group of nature advocates - on August 13 - 129 years to the day which Muir and his party took a breakfast of coffee, cheese and bread and departed ‘Camp Muir’ for their historic summit climb.
The expedition will also include other treasures, such as the jewel of the National Trail system; the Pacific Crest Trail, The John Muir Trail ending in Yosemite, The Timberline Trail around Mount Hood, the Wonderland Trail on Mount Rainier and the Mountains To Sound Greenway which connects Central Washington to my home city of Seattle.
The last section in Scotland will complete this expedition, traversing my homeland from coast to coast on the John Muir Way. Twenty-miles from the end of this journey, on the second to last day - the John Muir trail passes within half a mile of where my family live. It's an uncanny coincidence, and I look forward to walking the last stretch with my niece Claire and nephew, Alisdair. If all goes well we’ll all be able to sit on the doorstep of the house where Muir was born, kick off our boots and start planning the next adventure!
I know that in 3000 miles of hiking and climbing… some unexpected thing will happen. Something will present an unexpected challenge and I’ve always considered adventure-challenges on a range going from ‘sporty’ to ‘spicy’ to ‘side-ways’! I can hope the challenges will be limited to 'sporty and spicy' - but I'm ready for anything! I'm sure there'll be some exciting storms, spicy river crossings and some 2 a.m. scratching-on-the-tent by who-knows-what, and in the middle of forest a hundred miles from anywhere! I do love my wilderness, but I also agree with the famous mountaineer, Reinhold Messner, who said, “Everyone is afraid of the dark…!”
I can’t plan for every eventuality and I know well, that we can’t control risk. However, we can mitigate them. To this end, I will hike and climb conservatively. I’ll mainly be going solo, and will be teaming up with some expert climbers/rangers and guides for some of the peaks.
To be writing a story and book about my countryman and hero, is a remarkable opportunity. I’m going out with eyes and ears open, seeking ways to convey Muir’s passion; his love of nature, his grit, his boldness, his humility and his deep reverence for the country he made his home. I want to discover and convey the essence and inspiration - which called him to do the work he did. I will write about his sheer-resilience and the relentless-dedication which inspired him to devote his life to protecting the some of the most magnificent parts of his new country. As well as founding the Sierra Club, Muir worked with three US Presidents and eventually became a naturalised US citizen, age 65 in 1903.
Staying in touch
Muir used every tool he could - to be an advocate for nature. He didn’t have Facebook and Instagram or a website - but I do and I intend to use them to tell stories and advocate for nature causes as I hike, climb and write.
It would mean a lot to me if you would share my media posts and check in when you can. I’ll be posting photographs, writing and conversations with people I meet along the way. I’ll do my best to make it inspiring and entertaining!
Before I leave, I’m working non-stop on partner relations, funding and sponsorships. I’m excited to become involved in a major initiative to preserve 1.5 million acres of pristine forest and trails in Washington State and will share more about this shortly. I’m also involved in outreach efforts to create opportunities for people and groups to be able to get closer to nature - even when economic and other barriers exist. A special thank you to friends at US National Park System, US Forest Service. Mountaineers Club, Sierra Club, Pacific Crest Trail Association, North Cascades Institute, REI and Mountains To Sound. I’m looking forward to showcasing your work over the upcoming weeks and months.
Please join me on the “Footsteps of a Saint” expedition and story. I'll appreciate the connection and encouragement - and please let me know if this project and I can be of value to your group or organisation in the form of talks or partnerships. Please also contact me if you would like to be involved as a sponsor and/or if you would enjoy to join me en-route.
I’ll be in contact in the following ways: