Taking a leap into the wild

Taking a leap into the wild

It was our last day in the spectacular Yukon wilderness. Eighteen days and several hundred miles earlier, we put in our whitewater canoes at the headwaters of the Hess. The river, once a drizzle of alpine snowmelt, was now a mega-snake of water. Fallen trees and freshly-carved walls of frozen soil greeted us at every bend, evidence of the spring’s annual melt and flood of ice. As the river morphed, I changed, too. Paddling silently on our final day, I felt present, grounded, and attuned to my surroundings. I noticed a warm, bright energy in my chest - a feeling I have come to understand as a sense of connection to my most authentic self.

Paddling the upper Hess River. Photo: Emily Ledingham

Paddling the upper Hess River. Photo: Emily Ledingham

In that moment, I made the decision to take a leap. I decided to step away from my exciting job at a compelling, mission-driven company to join the founding team of Chulengo Expeditions. The decision did not come easily, because I loved that job, the social and financial value it brought me, and the quantifiable impact it allowed me to make. In that moment, however, I had the clarity of mind and openness of heart to realize - and accept - that I felt called to work in the outdoors. I was able to shrug off my misguided self-judgment about what qualified as a “real job.” What’s more, I could see - and feel - the true potential that Chulengo has to offer.

Chulengo is special because of its team, its ethos, and its connection to place. My cofounders Nadine and Ben dedicated years of work to helping legendary conservationists Doug and Kris Tompkins create Patagonia National Park. In the words of Yvon Chouinard, this park “is the best example of what we can do to restore, then permanently conserve, key wildlands.” Having visited the park myself, I can attest to its breathtaking beauty and soulful wildness. Its natural ecosystem has surged back into bloom in recent years, thanks to the help of some caring human stewards who see themselves as participants in the ecosystem rather than masters of it. To help visitors learn about this place and feel its magic, Nadine and Ben started leading backpacking trips there last season, calling themselves Chulengo Expeditions.

Walking in the Lago Chico region of Patagonia National Park. Photo: Gabe DeWitt

Walking in the Lago Chico region of Patagonia National Park. Photo: Gabe DeWitt

The spirit of this origin story aligns deeply with a calling I have felt within myself for years: to help more people develop a personal, authentic relationship with wild nature.

Building a relationship with the natural world is critical on an individual and global level. Individually, it helps us embody the best version of ourselves and lead our lives with love, openness, and patience - qualities needed more deeply than ever in our current era. Wild nature helps us access these qualities by calling on us to slow down, live with deliberate intention, and feel the inspiration and wisdom that flows from our interconnectedness with the universe of life.

Globally, a relationship with wild places helps us stay in touch with the heartbeat of our planet - the broad, swirling dance of ecosystems that nourishes our bodies, minds, and souls. That heartbeat is currently frantic under the threat of rapid and destabilizing human-induced change: reckless pollution that contaminates our clean air and water, skyrocketing greenhouse gas levels, plummeting biodiversity, and wasteful and destructive over-harvesting of farmlands, fisheries, forests, and rock. We feel some of the cost of this destabilization through extreme events like hurricanes, oil spills, wildfires, droughts, drinking water contamination, and floods. But we need to feel it every day. We need a visceral connection to our planet to respond to its ecological crisis with the level of conviction and urgency that the crisis demands.

At Chulengo, we intentionally cultivate our personal relationships with wild places - starting with Patagonia National Park. We ask hard questions, think critically, and do our best to live deliberately. We walk together through wilderness and we stand up to protect it. In the comfort of nature’s embrace, we share with each other the beautiful and vulnerable narratives of our own journeys. Already in our first year, we’ve made new friends and warm memories, found lasting inspiration, and uncovered valuable insights. It is only the beginning.

I hope you will join us!

-Brooks

Pointing north: very far afield in the Brooks Range

Pointing north: very far afield in the Brooks Range

Until this summer, Alaska was for me what Patagonia is to many of you: an enthralling land of extremes and wildness that I'd imagined for years but never visited. As June and July brought winter snows and frosts to Chile, we traveled far, far north to Alaska's Brooks Range, a 1000-mile chain of mountains above the Arctic Circle.

In unending summer daylight, we packrafted the Alatna River and circumambulated the Arrigetch Peaks, within the 8.4 million acre Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. Exploring a totally new landscape via our feet and boats reminded us of the wonder that getting to know a wild place can bring. We walked a grizzly cub learn to climb a tree, and heard a wolf howling from a bluff above our boats. Caribou entertained us with their strutting and sauntering; Dall sheep visited us bathing at a mountain hot spring. 

In parallel, we learned that the State of Alaska plans to build a 220-mile industrial access road that would cross Gates of the Arctic and open a vast area up to mining. Here's a piece I wrote for The Cleanest Line, Patagonia's blog, about the project. If you're concerned (as I am), considering signing this petition to protest the roadbuilding. 

Now back to the frontcountry and diving into planning Chulengo's next season in Patagonia, we're still sorting through stories and reading tales of Alaska exploits while shifting our attention to the far south.  For now, the highlights in photos below.

- Nadine

Where we swam last summer

Where we swam last summer

That same edge, when April brought big shadows to the steep-walled valley, steeling ourselves (daring each other) for cold bellies, feet, faces.  Yelps submerged and emerged as laughs mixed with pants. “You never regret a swim.”