Over the course of his military service with the Special Air Service, his record-setting expeditions, and his television career, it’s fair to say Bear Grylls has seen more of the world than most. So it only feels natural to ask him where someone should go these days for a proper adventure. But according to the British explorer, you don’t need to fly across the globe to have an eye-opening experience.
“I have been lucky to go to the ends of the earth, and what I have learned is you don’t need to go there to have an incredible adventure,” says Grylls. “I think with all of this focus on travel right now, it is easy for Americans to forget that they also live in the most incredible country. I have particular fondness for places that have a lot of ecological diversity, and one of those places is the Sierra Nevada mountain range in northern California.”
So when it came time to pick the location to shoot the first season of his Facebook Watch series Bear Grylls: Face The Wild, where average people join him on a survival adventure, Grylls knew exactly where to go. Men’s Journal spoke with him over the phone about his love for the Americas and why you shouldn’t wait to enjoy them.
So where are you currently?
I am in the mountains of Switzerland right now to shoot a new program. I have to say it’s a pretty great place to be. I have been spending the days paragliding and skiing and all sort of things like that.
How did you decide on shooting Face The Wild in the Sierra Nevada Mountains?
Since this first season of Face The Wild we are featuring Americans, we thought it would be great to take them to an American location. I think one of the exciting elements for me about this show from the beginning was the idea of bringing people somewhere spectacular in their own country, perhaps a place that they hadn’t really thought about visiting or have heard too much about. That is especially exciting for me when it is people who rarely make it to the outdoors, or anywhere outside of the city.
What do you think about the experience you had there?
I have had a number of experiences traveling and adventuring in the States, whether it was for Running Wild or Man Vs. Wild, and I have great memories about those trips. I mean you guys have this great diversity of wildlife here. This area that we are talking about specifically, and where we were, has a great variety of landscapes. There is desert on one side and highlands on the other and forest everywhere between. The place checked all of those boxes for us.
What was challenging about that region?
From the get go, it is high elevation, which is always challenging for those who aren’t acclimated to it. There is a lot of tough terrain so having the right gear is important. I find for most people though, the biggest thing that they have to overcome is in their own head. They are so far out of their comfort zone. They are nervous at the very beginning, and usually that means that they haven’t slept very well.
What do you love about this gig?
For me, to introduce people to my office, which is the wilderness, is a privilege. I try to be very respectful about where the average person is coming from. I am never trying to break anyone. I want people to have a great experience. I want to empower them to do trips like this again. The wild doesn’t care if you are a celebrity or a local. The wild just does its thing. For this show, in particular, we are dealing with a lot of people who have never done anything like this before. I am there to stand there beside them and help them on this journey. That is what is truly compelling about this program, is that you are getting to see people stretch beyond their believed limitations. Through this experience these people are going to grow.
What do you see people gaining from being adventurous like this?
I have the benefit of experience through times like that myself, where I have had to break through my own boundaries mentally and physically. I can say there is nothing better. On the other side of it, you get to see the light in people’s eyes when they succeed or expand their comfort zones. I absolutely sense it in the culture right now: People are afraid to fall, because they think it makes them look vulnerable or less cool. But that is the only way you are ever going to truly grow. I mean you are all so lucky you have it all there.
For people that do want to venture out of The States, what other nearby countries do you love?
I have to say the jungles of Central America are always incredible. I mean, the Camino Real in Panama always leads to a great story. I am personally drawn to places in the world that have real history. You can almost feel it when you are in those places. I have done a lot in Panama.
What do you love about the jungle?
There is no place as unforgiving as a jungle. That is a whole other level. I think eventually you learn that you aren’t going to make the pace in a jungle; the jungle sets the pace for you. I like that it means you have to be on your mettle. You have to be on your toes. There is no chance to switch off because there is so much happening. There is so much life, even more so at night. There is great change in the terrain. One day you will be in volcanic lava tubes, then incredible sink holes, these cave systems that have never been explored. The fact is if you are bored of the jungle, you are really bored of life.
What have you learned through your experiences out there?
I have found that some people will try to run before they can walk when it comes to the jungle. You don’t have to step far off the beaten path to get lost there, and then you are in trouble. The adventure travel has become very well set up in these areas, so you are able to enjoy treetops and rafting with the right personnel to do it. I have heard a lot of stories of people looking the wrong way while they are hiking through the jungle and then they are completely off the map.
What should people do to prepare before going into the jungle?
Get a good guide. Find someone that is going to lead you well. Get a great machete. That will help you with everything that you need in the jungle. Fire. Get some great fire-making tools. Something that will deal well with getting wet. So ditch the matches, go with a fire striker. Grabbing a whistle is always good when you are traveling with a group to help locate people. Get a head torch with some spare batteries. Basic means of communication that is also waterproofed. Bring a sense of humor. That will take you far. And a spare set of clothes that you keep dry. Always bring a mosi net. Nothing can ruin a night like a mosquito in the tent. You will thank me later.
WHERE TO STAY IN SIERRA NEVADA, BEAR GRYLLS-STYLE
There are a few activities that Grylls loved to bring his guests on in the Sierra Nevada, including kayaking, rock climbing, and biking through the mountain trails. Here are some places that help you have the most adventurous trip.
Chateau du Sureau: Oakhurst, CA
Tenaya Lodge: Fish Camp, CA
Tahoe Black Bear: South Tahoe Lake, CA
WHERE TO STAY IN PANAMA, BEAR GRYLLS-STYLE
“I have found places are beginning to understand that people want adventure in their vacations,” Grylls says. “There are some incredible eco-resorts that are able to help you follow through on your desire.” Don’t forget to get a guide before hitting the jungle; there are a number of companies operating out of Panama, like Jungle Treks.
Canopy Tower: Panama City, Panama
Check out new episodes of Face The Wild on Facebook Watch here.