Our Favorite Quotes from the WA Quotebook

By Wilderness Adventures December 4, 2015

The WA quote book means so much to so many people. When you watch Mike or Helen talk about it or flip through it, you see 43 years of the legacy and unmistakeable magic that is WA shine in their eyes. If you could bottle the years of families and friendships made, fears conquered, adventures created, lives changed, rivers rafted, bagels eaten, and sunsets and sunrises marveled at – it would be the quote book. Mine has traveled back and forth to Alaska twice, West Africa, New Zealand… What about you? Where has your quote book accompanied you, and which quotes are your favorite? All of us here in the office took a second to reflect on our favorite quotes below.



“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” – John Muir

I first read this quote as a freshman at UVM, on the bathroom wall at the Outing Club house. It was just after I had finished a week-long wilderness orientation trip. At the beginning of that week I was extremely anxious about starting college. It was all new and I didn’t know anyone. At the end of the trip I felt confident that I could handle anything college could throw at me and I knew I had discovered a new passion.



“There has been no time in human history when mountains and mountaineering have had so much to offer to men. We need to re-discover the vast, harmonious pattern of the natural world we are a part of—the infinite complexity and variety of its myriad components, the miraculous simplicity of the whole. We need to learn again those essential qualities in ourselves which made us what we are: the energy of our bodies, the alertness of our minds, curiosity and desire to satisfy it, fear and the will to conquer it. The mountain may well be a way of escape—from the cities and men, from the turmoil and doubt, from the perplexities and uncertainties and sorrows that thread our lives. But in the truest and most profound sense it is an escape not from but to reality.”– James Ramsey Ullman Age of Mountaineering

I was one of those bookish teenagers that soaked up every word on a page in front of her. My propensity for introspection was insurmountable, perhaps to a fault. Meeting the WA quote book on my trip as a student was love at first sight. The quotes I was most drawn to were the ones focused on environmentalism and exploration as answers to our eternal, inner-most questions; because, of course, they were the answers to mine. Though “The Age of Mountaineering” was written in 1941, its timelessness is striking. My greatest hope for every WA student and staff member is for this quote to ring as true to them as it did to me: for their WA experience to bring them to a truer, deeper, more meaningful reality, one which stays with them long after their trip is over.



“A leader is best when people barely know he exists,

Not so good when people obey and acclaim him,

Worse when they despise him.

Fail to honor people,

They fail to honor you.

But of a good leader, who talks little,

When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,

The people will say, ‘We did this ourselves.’”


I first read this quote as a leader for WA in Costa Rica.  Our quote book is divided into chapters, Expeditioning, Inspirational, etc. and this quote is the first quote under the Leadership chapter. I think its place directly under the title “Leadership” is well-earned.  As a leader on a WA trip, you’re there for the kids.  Sure, you know how to make pasta, how to lead a circle, and how to set up a tent. And there might be times on a trip when you want to do everything for the kids because it’s taking them a long time, or you could do a “better” job.  But what good is that? Does that benefit the student in any way?  As a trip leader, I don’t want the students to remember all the things I did for them, I want them to remember all the things they did themselves.



The Indian and the Cricket

I was walking with my friend, an American Indian, on a crowded street in New York City when he suddenly exclaimed, “I hear a cricket.”

“You’re crazy,” I said, as I observed the crowded noon-time street scene in midtown. Cars were honking, construction crews working, planes flying overhead.

“No, I hear a cricket,” he insisted, and proceeded to walk to a flower bed in front of a fancy office building. There, under a leafy plant, he showed me a cricket chirping with life.

“That’s amazing,” I responded. “You must have fantastic hearing.”

“Not really. It all depends on what you’re tuned into,” my friend explained.

“I find that hard to believe,” I said.

“Watch,” my wise friend offered, and he proceeded to drop a handful of coins onto the crowded sidewalk.

Instantly heads turned, eyes darted, and hands reached for pockets to see if they were the poor soul who’d lost his or her money.

“See,” his eyes twinkled, “it all depends on what you’re tuned into.”

– Adapted by Dave Moriah from the “Summit Expedition” staff manual

During the latter part of my Northwest trip in 1989, I remember Tom Woodhouse reading this quote around the campfire at Fort Worden State Park.  The message really clicked at that moment of the trip and I realized how special my experience was / would become.


“Bagels are beautiful for backpacking.” – Mike Cottingham

Always a classic; one of the big parts of my summers as a leader and participant was bringing the community together during meal time.  As silly as it sounds, bagels are the staples across all of our programs and always provided a great source of entertainment and talking points with some of the unique creations/ variations students came up with.



“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time; it is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”

A simple reminder that always keeps me grounded – we are a speck in the grand scheme of life. I don’t take that to mean we’re insignificant; rather that we are incredibly lucky to have such a gift as this. And, I like buffalo.



“I feel more like I do now than I did when I first got here.” – Summer ‘82 River Guide



“The thing to remember when traveling is that the trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast and you miss all you are traveling for.” – Louis L’Amour

In this world of rush, rush, we all often focus more on the destination, rather than the journey that takes you there.