Wesley Simko is a Clark Fork High School graduate who won the Friends of Scotchman Peaks scholarship contest this past spring. Wesley earned this scholarship award by submitting the essay below, recounting an epic experience in his wild backyard.
I saw the picture of the fog-encased peak and my heart sunk. This might be a problem. I had planned for this adventure just enough to convince my cousin and sister to join me, and I definitely didn’t plan for fog of all things. But there it was, making bushwhacking the couple thousand vertical feet to a neighboring peak more complicated. A little bit of complication wasn’t a big deal though, my plan was simple enough. First, find the ridge between Carter and Riser creeks using a topo map app. Then follow said ridge until we are on top of the peak that we’ve looked up at our whole lives. The fog started to look a bit less thick to our optimistic eyes, so we went for it.
We scrambled through the scrubby underbrush, and, unless faced with a cliff face, opted to go straight up the mountain rather than follow the circuitous, overgrown logging roads. We saw fewer logging roads as the ridge started to define itself. When the sides of the game trail we found dropped off in both directions, we no longer needed to check our map to make sure we were on the right track. Then the ridge fell away completely to one side, so we walked between the cliff on one side and a steep grassy slope on the other. We fell into a sort of rhythm. I would confidently state that the summit was right over the next knoll, and my sister would verbally roll her eyes at me each time. She was always right.
We finally stopped for lunch on a ledge, and of course called our mom from what to us seemed like another world, but in reality, we could basically see our house thousands of feet below. Fueled on by soggy Nutella sandwiches and the discovery of ticks at our stopping point, we made our final ascent. The sun broke as we scrambled up to the peak that I’d been incessantly thinking about for the past couple of weeks. I appreciated how well everything had worked out, but as we stood on the peak, the vast backcountry behind me caught my eye. I wanted to explore more and more. It’s all unknown yet familiar and inviting at the same time. In the backcountry, I never know what I’ll see or experience, but I do know that I’ll be surrounded by the one-of-a-kind atmosphere of the wilderness. The feeling of being in the wilderness is indescribably freeing, but also a growing rarity in everyday life.
You see, lots of us today like to be in control and in our comfort zones, but what exploring the backcountry has taught me, is that the unplanned things make you feel alive. Nature throws stuff at you that you can’t prepare for. The wilderness will always have a surprise in store for those who enter it, be it thick fog encasing a mountain top or an animal standing around the next bend. It makes you feel like an explorer and most importantly, it makes you feel alive. And there is no better feeling than alive.