Enter the Wilderness in Fossil Ridge

Tucked away among legendary mountain ranges like the Elks and the Sawatch lays a secret.  Many people often go near it, but never actually enter.  This place, the Fossil Ridge Wilderness, is both wild and serene—a paradise landscape obscured by its more well known surroundings.

Studying and assessing the true the ‘character’ of this wilderness, or any for that matter, is impossible without being fully immersed in the wildness and wonder it has to offer.  Luckily, upon starting this task, I was sent out for four days to do just that.  Enter—the wilderness.  Exit—the summer crowds of the Gunnison Valley.

The primitive and unconfined, often self-reliant, travel through this place became immediately evident with an un-bridged river crossing simply to reach the trail.  From there, a steady climb past beaver ponds, waterfalls, and through cycling stands of aspens and spruce fir forests.  Then, the trail steeply rises in altitude, but steeply drops in ‘class’—narrow, uneven, and rocky.  In many places, it is barely even discernable.  This is still too much trail for many wilderness seekers, but (debatably) certain ‘easy’ access must be maintained.  So, up we went—deeper into the wilderness, both geographically and mentally.

The Colorado high country summer is well known for afternoon showers, and while Fossil Ridge Wilderness is an escape from reality in many ways, it is no refuge from this weather pattern.  Now, I am typically on high altitude hikes, which makes me associate rain with lightning.  So, when the clouds rolled in, momentary anxiety set in—how silly.  Few times have I ever been in such a serene state of mind than hiking through the rain in the backcountry of Fossil Ridge. 

This excursion quickly developed into perfect combination of exposure to the elements we, as humans, have strived to avoid for centuries—the inconveniences of moving slow, carrying ‘all you have’ on your back, rain with no refuge, and fluctuating temperatures.  Let me tell you something, it’s no walk in the park (it is a walk in the wild), but this is what we have been doing for the majority of our existence.  There is a primal need to be in these places and conditions.  The high, this altered consciousness, achieved by relenting to this hardwired, dormant, and deeply wild nature is one of pristine clarity.

Now I ask: is this wilderness experience the ‘altered’ state of mind, or is it the achievement of true clarity cutting through the haze of the daily grind in our preferred ‘civilization’?  My suggestion: find out for yourself.


Mitch Warnick, Region 2 Fellow for the Fossil Ridge and Powderhorn Wilderness Areas.

Mitch is a master’s candidate in the Master of Environmental Management (MEM) program at Western State Colorado University.  Previously, he earned a BS in Geology from College of Charleston.  Outside of ‘degrees,’ he is committed to seeking avenues for natural conservation, as well as continued preservation of already protected places, by promoting them through photography and story-telling.  He believes that people protect what they love, so if we harness a culture that loves wilderness (capital W, or otherwise), we will make sound decisions regarding our treatment of said places.
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The Society for Wilderness Stewardship is a non-profit, charitable organization under the 501 (c)(3) section of the Internal Revenue Code.