Thus do I refute Keith Hammer

We in America have a problem.  Idiosyncracies of our wilderness preservation laws and their implementation and advocacy have (largely) bifurcated those dedicated to the outdoors as a worthy part of American culture.  I’ve yet to find a more stark articulation of this than the Swan View Coalition’s Code of Responsible Recreation (link withheld to protect google rankings).   To quote the page in its entirety:

The wild is being driven out of America’s backcountry by ultra-marathon foot races, biking, motorized vehicles, and other frontcounty sports run amok.

We therefore offer the following code of conduct:

Responsible backcountry recreation remains rooted in quality, not quantity.

It is measured by depth of appreciation, not by fastest speed or longest distance.

It minimizes haste, hardware, competition, and intrusion.

It engages people in conservation through mindful practice of minimal impact.

It reserves the backcountry for traditional, contemplative recreation that can’t be had in the frontcountry.

Conservation of fish, wildlife and America’s backcountry requires people acting more responsibly, not more people pursuing cheap thrills and extreme sports.

The code has its strengths, weaknesses, and flaws, but well epitomizes the conflict (understand that I’m simplifying for the sake of brevity, and that thankfully most folks don’t experience the conflict as so stark or black and white).  The old guard of Sierra Club heavy and slow backpackers has (for example) no interest in seeing bikes allowed back into Wilderness, whereas the younger cadre finds it hard to support a rigid and exclusionary vision of wild recreation.

There are vast problems of implementation here, but thankfully Mr. Hammer (who runs the Swan Coalition and is perhaps most recently notorious for trying to shut down the Swan Crest 100 last year) has his history and philosophy backwards, and this will hopefully resolve some of the political problems as generations move forward in decades to come.  The nut of the argument seems to be first that profundity of experience can only be achieved via a narrow band of experience, and second that it has been this certain sort of experience which has created the Wilderness system in America as we know it today.

Disproving the second shows well how flawed the first idea is.  The giants of wilderness thinking in America were, almost to a man, characterized by their immoderate participation in and with the wild.  Bob Marshall went on 50 mile day hikes.  John Muir went on peak bagging trips intentionally under-equipped, climbed tall tress during thunderstorms, and slept out in the open on glaciers.  Aldo Leopold hunted bears solo in New Mexico.  Thoreau canoed the little-known rivers of Maine.  Theodore Roosevelt, while he was president, ditched the Secret Service and went hiking all day in Yellowstone by himself.  Sedate backpacking trips do not inspire, and do not often bespeak of, the character necessary to communicate great truths about wilderness, and therein the human condition.  There is compelling evidence in this realm to think that, in the realm of great art and politics, mellowness of experience engenders mediocrity of action.  The TR in his twenties would, were he alive today, drive down from western North Dakota to do Hardrock.

This being the case, it should be no surprise that the three rotating banner photos currently on the Swan Crest Coalitions website all feature evidence of human habitation, and were thus not taken from within Wilderness or wilderness.  It is also little surprise that all the pictures on the site of people hiking are from the Jewel Basin, the most used and easiest to access alpine terrain in Montana (save Logan Pass).  It would seem that the coalition would do better to understand that which they purport to protect.  In wilderness, tactile understanding is a prerequisite for advocacy.

Thus do I refute the Keith Hammers of the world.


  1. Responsible backcountry recreation ~ minimizes haste, hardware, competition, and intrusion?
    Is this why I rarely encounter anyone any deeper than eight miles into the wilderness backcountry? I should have know better than to have traveled so far so fast…

    Let them have their hyperbole and while they are looking for an audience nowhere near any country, I will be deep in the backcountry pursuing cheap thrills and extreme sports.


  2. I wrote an entire manifesto on this topic – I will email it to you. I am not sure what to do with my manifesto though. I might send it to the paper.

  3. Curious to oppose a foot race when the extractavators are scarcely kept from removing mountaintops and burning the last pine needle. How can this conflict be redirected to preserve some backcountry?

    1. That it indeed the question. I admire some of the things the Swan View has done, but cannot help but think they appeal to a (literally) dying demographic.

  4. Very interesting post Dave. I totally agree there are other ways to enjoy a wilderness experience. What makes hiking long distances or runnind down a trail inferior to “contemplating?”
    If we want continued support for wilderness protection the more people with a stake in the matter the better. Trying to excude a whole group of people just because they enjoy the wilderness differently is arrogent and short sighted because it creates unneeded enemies who could be allies.
    As far as mountain bikes go I like not having to dodge mountain bikes going much faster than me in the Colorado wilderness areas. On the other hand I like dodging dirt bikes and ATVs even less. Seems to me a pragmatic approach given the popularity of mountain biking would be to try and turn some of our non-wilderness areas into “Biking Wildernesses” where motorized vehicles are banned but bikes are not. I know one reason areas in Colorado aren’t protected as wilderness areas is the opposition of mountain bikers.
    Meantime I need to put together a rant about how the envirnmentalist lobby shot themselves in the foot by basically hitching their cause to the Democratic party and all the negative effects that has on their cause.

    1. The interesting thing with mountain bikes in Wilderness is that it comes down to a FS interpretation of the mechanized clause which dates to the mid-80s. Obviously there would be huge objection to doing so, but reversing this decision would be quite simple and not (as I once believed) at all open the door to motorized use of Wilderness.

      The exclusion of mountain bikes from Wilderness has likely cost that lobby more support than any single issue. There are substantive arguments on both sides, but they’re exclusively ideological.

      I’d love to see stock banned outright in Wilderness, or a least a stricter reading of the permanent structures clause which would necessitate the removal of all bridges. But that is my ideology speaking.

  5. Very well said Dave! The Swan View Coalition is a complete joke when they say they represent Wilderness users and such. I urge everyone to check out the finanicals of the Swan View at You’ll quickly find out that over 70% of the income goes to pay Keith Hammer. That where your donations go…in his pocket. Do you really think he works 35/hr week doing this shit? I mean, I could put up a website, send out a newsletter or two, put in a couple drain dips on trails and call it a job with two weeks a year worth of work.

    Seriously, you have to look closely at the one-person non-profits saying they represent a particular group or interest when if fact, it just one person screaming his/her own personal belifes.

    Dave, you should start a non-profit, have a little donations page and gross 35K a year doing what your doing…so frustrating. In the meantime, I need to get back to real work, like 99% of other folks.

  6. Wilderness, and wilderness is a great topic, one that I’ve written a bit about, and plan to write more…

    A common thread among so-called Wilderness protectors is exclusivity of experience. That is, they all claim to know how other people ought to enjoy the outdoors. Of course, it’s mostly hogwash. Phrases like “depth of appreciation” are meaningless, subjective, unquantifiable. How does one measure the depth of his appreciation for the Grand Canyon, The White Rim, or the small stream that runs through the back yard?

    Conservation of wild lands has been mostly a function of governmental decree. Different parties, lobbyists, and bureaucrats each make decisions based on the probability of re-election (and the potential for monetary gain). Meanwhile those of us who actually attempt to recreate in the mountains and deserts are left helpless to those decisions… either that, or become a lobbyist, (or send money to one) and who has time for that?

    I’d like to see wilderness thought of as a commodity. that is, as something that has inherent value. Both as a resource for timber, ore, oil, etc, but also (and prehaps more importantly) a resource for recreation – a chance for one to remove himself from the urban, modern, networked reality that dominates our lives. When people (even the non-enthusiasst) discover or recognize that wilderness has value beyond the obvious, we will work harder to, not only preserve what exists, but to create more of it.

    Meanwhile, I’ll continue to enjoy the outdoors the best ways that i know how – wether on a bike, on skis, or on foot, (or motor vehicle?) matters little.

  7. My best contemplations have always not even begun until I reached the very end of myself. This often involves “extreme sports.” I wonder if Mr. Hammer has done much contemplation.

    A thing I find curious about taking the time to deride endurance and or adventure racers is that the people engaged in those activities are often the biggest advocates for responsible stewardship of the land. It also seems a bit odd to lump a foot race with motorized vehicles.

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