by Andy Dappen

A recent article in Parade Magazine discussed the power of awe in buoying happiness, healing psychological issues, and maintaining health. Some interesting quotes from the article:

  • Awe is the positive emotion that most strongly predicts reduced levels of cytokines, a marker of inflammation that’s linked to depression…That suggests a possible role in health and healing, and may help explain the raft of recent studies that have linked exposure to nature with lower blood pressure, stronger immune systems and more. Researches even wonder whether a lack of nature and other opportunities for feeling awe might add to the stresses and health damage that come from living in urban blight or poverty.
  • Now the director of Sierra Club Outdoors (has) partnered with UC Berkeley to form the Great Outdoors Lab to document nature’s impact on the mind, body and relationships. Early studies have taken veterans and underserved adolescent, white-water rafting. Subjects showed measured improvements in psychological well-being, social functioning and life outlook. Veteran stress dropped by 30 percent.
  • In a few years you’ll go to the doctor, and as part of treatment for trauma, you’ll get a prescription to get some hiking boots or go on a rafting trip.

Read the complete article (in the October 9, 2016 issue of Parade).

The article mentions the many ways  that awe can be inspired – through music, a friend’s generosity, watching the performance of mind-blowing athlete – but also says that as much as 75 percent of the awe we do experience is inspired by the natural world. It mentions, for example, how looking up at the Milky Way from a really dark place can set the spine tingling. Indeed, on a backpacking trip two weekends  ago into the Pasayten Wilderness, I rose around midnight to relieve myself. The sky was so star-filled that amid the billion points of light I could barely find Cassiopeia or the Big Dipper (the one in the sky, that is). I just stood there shivering  in my skivvies looking up at the black and white wonder of it all. My mother would have yelled at me to get back in the tent, saying that with the 25-degree temperatures I’d catch pneumonia or catch my death of cold. Mom, however, didn’t know that awe was strengthening my immune system.

With awe in mind, we recommend these nearby hikes.

1)      Saddle Rock. The hike may be a grunt but the view from the top will fill your cup with awe.

2)      Colchuck Lake. When you first see the turquoise waters of the lake  flanked by the cliffs of Dragontail and Colchuck peaks, awe smacks you like water from a firehose.

3)      Eagle Rock. Such a short hike, yet so much awe per step.

4)      Sage Hills. Hike the hills late in the day when the setting paints the surrounding hills in shadow. Or hike here in spring when wildflowers paint the surroundings  in color. Awesome.

5)      Penstock Pipeline Trail.  Rivers can unleash such awe-inspiring power. To see what we mean, do this hike in the Tumwater Canyon in spring when the Wenatchee River is raging.

6)      Enchantment Traverse. Once you get above the 5,000-foot level almost every step of this hike can leave your jaw slack. Call it jawsome.

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