Published May 24. 2014 4:00AM
Friends, family and loyal readers realize I would prefer pitching a tent on the side of a mountain to spending a night at the Ritz-Carlton, and would rather gobble gorp by a campfire than choke down pâté de foie gras at Le Cirque.
Considering these sensibilities I’m somewhat amused and bemused by the relatively new — or rather, newly re-invented — outdoor experience known as glamping, which is pretty much as it sounds: glamorous camping.
For an often princely sum glampers can be pampered in luxurious accommodations at seaside spas, alpine resorts, exotic game preserves, remote islands, sylvan glades and other scenic locales without having to sleep in the mud, eat out of an aluminum pot or swat at mosquitoes. Such websites as glamping.com, glampinghub.com and goglamping.net list hundreds of opportunities around the globe, including staying in a canvas pavilion with stunning views at Sanctuary Swala in Tanzania, in gracious safari tents at Fiji’s Maqai Beach Eco Surf Resort or in a tented suite in Myanmar’s Bagan Lodge. You can also stay in a yurt in the Rockies or a teepee in the desert.
Connecticut residents needn’t travel that far to enjoy a glamping experience. The Tree House in Sharon in the northwest corner of the state offers a 500 square-foot studio apartment, “totally furnished in Asian flavor with lovely country views,” that includes such amenities as air conditioning, bed linens, cell, Internet and Wi-Fi service, electricity, a hair dryer, laundry service and a hot shower, all for about $250 a night.
On the other hand, not far away you can pitch a tent at Housatonic Meadows State Park for $17 a night, or stay overnight for free at a shelter along the Appalachian Trail.
While the term glamping may be relatively new, the concept has been around for a century or more. Sporting camps in Maine and other New England states have catered to generations of hunters and fishermen from New York, Boston and other urban centers. Likewise, dude ranches out West have long attracted city folk looking to “get away from it all.”
Safaris and mountaineering expeditions have also offered high-end vacations designed to take some of the roughness out of roughing it.
Full disclosure: During a week-long Himalayan trek years ago through Nepal’s Khumbu Region, my wife and I signed up with a guided tour in which Sherpas and yaks carried much of our gear and cooks prepared our meals — but I don’t think that quite qualified as glamping since we had to use latrines and make do without running water or electricity.
I also relied on a guide who doubled as a chef on a high-altitude mountaineering expedition in Argentina, but during that nearly month-long journey we not only didn’t even have latrines we had to dig out three feet of snow before pitching tents in camps over 17,000 feet.
Anyway, I have nothing against glamping as long as it doesn’t permanently intrude into the wilderness. If people want to camp in comfort, far be it for me to object — unless their deluxe safari tent remains in a pristine location all year for the comfort of a continuous parade of guests.
Though I’ve stayed in my share of shelters while hiking Vermont’s Long Trail and on sections of the Appalachian Trail throughout New England, I’m more of a pitch your tent at night, pack up in the morning and move on kind of guy.
While glamping caters to those less inclined toward self-deprivation, I’m reminded that some forms are too rigorous for the sedentary set.
While in Nepal I joined a Sherpa and another hiker for a side excursion to the fabled Everest View Hotel, whose owners claimed it was the world’s highest hostelry, at 13,000 feet. Indeed, it does offer a stunning vista that includes the tallest mountain on the planet, but I stayed at an even higher inn years later, Hotel Refugio, at 14,337 feet, while tramping back from an expedition in the Andes to Mount Aconcagua.
Japanese developers who built the Everest View in 1968 quickly ran into difficulties. Most tourists who flew from Japan and landed at the Shyangboche airstrip only a few hundred yards from the hotel experienced horrible motion sickness, and a few suffered pulmonary edema while hiking to the front desk. A few dropped dead.
During our visit the hotel was closed for business, occupied only by an ancient caretaker who sat silently in the lobby, spinning yak hair on a drop spindle. The tables were set with linen, silver and china; beds were made; pantries stocked with food.
Hotel managers for a while tried supplying guests with oxygen tanks but that proved too complex and costly, so the airstrip shut down.
Now guests who have not acclimatized to the altitude must fly to Lukla at 9,200 feet and endure a three-day hike to the hotel.
I guess that puts the Everest View out of the reach of most glampers.
I will say this, though. After weeks of holing up in a tent in the snow I was very happy to bunk down at Hotel Refugio. At that point I might even have considered glamping.