I wanted to introduce myself along with the rest of the small team that will be joining me this fall on a previously un-attempted fat bike and packraft trip through an intriguing and rarely visited corner of Alaska. Our little cadre of three will be made up my girlfriend who is, amongst other winning traits, my principal trip-partner, best friend, a naturalist/artist and well-versed wilderness adventure bum, Kim McNett.
Daniel Countiss, a veteran to rowdy and remote fat bike expeditions, a former Georgian and now fellow Homer, Alaska resident, will also be joining us. Daniel is a professional welder and is owner/operator of the custom bicycle company Defiance Frameworks. His personal bike is a customized reflection of the terrain we regularly find ourselves traversing – light but strong, simple, big tired, and capable.
For my own part, I am a born and raised Alaskan with a life-long passion for exploring the Great Land by human-power. My original appetites were for mountaineering, climbing, and expedition kayaking, but over the past dozen years I have been consumed with the bottomless joy of finding my limits on a fat bike, often with the aid of a packraft, in the backcountry. Photography, filmmaking, and writing are the secondary excuses I proffer to justify time spent in the hinterlands.
In June 2018, Tim Kelley, Gunnar Cantwell, Tom Diegel, and Hyperlite Mountain Gear ambassador Brad Meiklejohn paddled and walked from Haines Junction in the Yukon, Canada to Yakutat, Alaska, completing the first packraft descent of the Alsek River. The Alsek is one of the legendary rivers of North America, in a league that includes the Stikine, Colorado, Columbia, and Susitna, and was the last major river in North America to be navigated.
Much of the Alsek remained terra incognita until 1971 when Walt Blackadar completed the first full descent, including a solo run through Turnback Canyon. Blackadar, the boldest kayaker of his generation, wrote: “I want every other kayaker to read my words well. The Alsek is unpaddleable! I’m not coming back. Not for $50,000, not for all the tea in China.”
Every year, the nonprofit Mount Washington Observatory in New Hampshire hosts a fundraiser titled “Seek the Peak“. With the reasonable request that participants raise $200 to help support the important work up on that mountaintop, hikers are treated to special prizes, drawings, good vibes, and camaraderie. There’s also their world-class afterparty to look forward to when everyone returns to sea level. Organizers seem to have tuned into the most primal and otherworldly “carrot” to chase – a full-blown Thanksgiving style meal at the finish. Make no mistake, this is hands down the most refreshing gravy you’ll ever have.
For the second year, a group of our employees headed to the event to take on whatever challenges the notoriously moody mountain put forth. This time around, that big pile of rocks was more than happy to have hundreds of people of all stripes climb all over her. With hardly a cloud in the sky, everyone who got above tree line was treated to unreal views in every direction – a rare but very welcome occurrence.
The Hyperlite Mountain Goats got an early-ish start at Pinkham Notch. Our team’s pace would be dictated by the blend of experience in it – accomplished thru hikers to new-to-the-region individuals (not to point any fingers in my own direction) that had no idea what this iconic New England trail can do to naïve knees and ankles. Despite this, we were cookin’ pretty well on the ascent up our chosen route on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. Collective spirits were high with everyone we encountered, and the determination to reach the peak was palpable. It was hard to think about anything else but getting up and over the chaotic expanse of stones to boulders, and the siren’s call of pizza and hot dogs in the Visitor Center.
Reloaded and stoked, we decided to pat ourselves on the back for the speed of our climb with what we were told was a far more relaxed and leisurely stroll down Boott Spur. Although it’s a somewhat longer route, the opportunity to get some moderate sections where we could get into a less jarring and smooth cadence would be well-received. Blow the jets out, loosen up, and go faceplant some much deserved turkey.
This pleasing scenario was entirely of our own making and in reality, non-existent. Not only was Boott Spur longer, but it also seemed to be even more highly concentrated with rocks and roots. And steep crevasse and ravine hand and butt slides. Straight down. Forever. Payback for our somewhat aggressive scaling of Mount Washington was being doled out with time and a half. Some folks in this squad (again, not to point fingers at myself) were making sounds upon ground contact that they had never made before. But we made it down, group intact, with an abundance of respect and reverence for New England’s highest peak.
The dinner was exceptional, and by all measures, the event was a winner. As is the case whenever there’s a chance to be immersed in a community of people who share your passions, the takeaway was that we hikers, backpackers, thru hikers, and general outdoor gadabouts care about and celebrate good things in the natural world around us. Whether people signed up for this gala for personal enjoyment of the mountain, or to support the research that helps us understand it, we wish the organizers of Seek the Peak continued growth and success. Thanks for having us!
For more information about Seek the Peak, head to the event page here.
One of the biggest differences between mainstream brand backpacks and ultralight backpacks is the amount of bells and whistles. Removable brains, sleeping bag compartments, built in rain fly, and trekking pole carry straps might work for some people, but for a lot of backpackers, these features are over-designed and under-used, which in turn becomes unnecessary weight. Each extra zipper adds grams and another weak point for water to enter the pack, which is why a weather-resistant, roll-top style pack is the preferred design for a growing number of hikers. With only one entry point at the top, gear can be a little harder to organize but there are some tricks to make packing easier.
Every year we’re inundated (and frankly honored) with hundreds of requests for supporting someone’s dream thru hike. Unfortunately, it’s simply impossible to hook up everyone with gear, but there are always a few stand-outs that grab our attention for any number of reasons. This year is no different, and we’ve got folks using our Windrider and Southwest packs on every major (and not-so-major) trail this summer. If you’re reading this and currently on-trail somewhere, drop us a line (firstname.lastname@example.org). We’d love to hear from you.
If you’re like us – and you are to some degree – living the trail life vicariously through social media updates, we’ve rounded up a list of our favorite trail characters to keep an eye on this summer.
Words & Photos by Nathan Shoutis and Thomas Kinsley
Thomas and I started packrafting in the early days of Alpacka Rafts – around 2005- when it was still a one-woman operation working out of a garage in Eagle River, Alaska. We first met on the south end of Kodiak Island, Alaska, working at a remote field camp for Fish and Game. From there we embarked on a two-week gentlemen’s stroll across the length of the island’s glacially carved mountainous spine from our camp back to the town of Kodiak. That was our first joint expedition, and this 2017 packrafting trip to Kamchatka was the 10-year anniversary mission, which made it even more special.
Words by Dulkara Martig // Photos by Ben Weigl & Dulkara Martig
It was mid-August, and fall was fast approaching in Alaska. Locals were squeezing in their last summer trips before the winter set in. Bears were munching on the last of the berries. Bursts of orange, yellow, and red danced across the tundra, and fresh snow blanketed the mountain tops most mornings. Along with two good friends from Australia – Ben, and John – I set off into the Brooks Range in Arctic Alaska where we found spectacular granite spires, endless seas of boulders, and a surprisingly strong connection to that wild expanse.
When our design intentions and your reactions line up, that’s the sweet spot. We don’t always nail it on the first try, though – case and point, the dimensions of the original hip belt pockets on our popular 2400, 3400, and 4400 packs. The common theme in the feedback we received was that they were a tad small for some of the items you wanted easy access to throughout your days. We listened, it was all valid, and we’re pleased to announce a change. Introducing the new hip belt pocket size.
For 2018, we’re happy to partner once again with the Continental Divide Trail Coalition.
The CDTC’s goal to protect the countless breathtaking natural resources along the 3,100-mile trail is a noble one, and it’s work we believe in supporting. In 2017, this ever-growing organization was the conduit for nearly 39,000 hours of trail maintenance from a community of over 1,000 volunteers. That’s within range of nearly one-million dollars’ worth of work. And this is just one example of the myriad ways the CDTC focuses on safeguarding the future of this route that travels through public lands from Canada to Mexico.
Additionally, this year we’re pleased to have collaborated with the CDTC on a special run of small Drawstring Stuff Sacks to commemorate the 40-year anniversary of the trail. These ultralight and supremely useful drawstring bags are perfect organizational tools in any pack, and they’ll only be available from the CDTC store, included with memberships and at events throughout the year.
First off, right now, you’re an “Aspiring Thru Hiker.” Until you finish your trail, you’re not yet a Thru-Hiker. You are certainly “thru-hiking”, but stay humble, the trail is hard for more than a few reasons, and you may not finish what you intended to start. Enjoy the journey with it’s challenges, and should you finish, enjoy your new title. You earned it. In the meantime, I’ve compiled a few insights that I found helpful throughout my quest to earning my own title, and that of a Triple Crowner.
Every year, we make the pilgrimage to Damascus, Virginia for the annual Appalachian Trail Days festival. Three days in Appalachia amongst some of our favorite people on Earth: accomplished and aspiring Thru-Hikers. The sheer number of people from every walk of life that pass thru Trail Town over the weekend never fails to amaze us. If you’re in the area and want to meet a colorful crew of Appalachian Trail hikers, this is the place to be.
This year we’ll have a trailer full of gear for sale (with event-only discounts), gear shakedowns, and raffles to cap off Friday and Saturday. Sign up early, and come by the booth at 4:00 P.M. for chances to win items from an assortment of great swag – including a 3400 Series Ultralight pack. See you there!
Damascus, Virginia is a small town is Southwest, Virginia that’s home to the convergence of seven hiking trails, including the point 470 miles in from the beginning of the Appalachian Trail. The regular population of just over 800 swells to nearly 30,000 when the town hosts the annual Trail Days Festival – a gathering of thru-hikers who are currently on trail, veteran hikers, and fans of the trail community. For more info check out the Official Trail Days 2018 brochure.
From deep in the Grand Canyon backcountry, ambassador Rich Rudow demonstrates his preferred way to mix up some ultralight margaritas while offering personal speculation into what ancient agave roasting in the region was really about.
On the Pacific Crest Trail: Determination is the name of the game.
I got home tonight around 1AM, and after a long day of fake smiling and clearing dirty plates, I was ecstatic to take off my grease stained work clothes and seclude myself from the outside world. I open my bedroom door, set my backpack down, take my work clothes off and immediately put on my short, black Nike hiking shorts and my new Hawaiian button up which I will wear on the Pacific Crest Trail.
No Matter Where You Are. Every Piece of Gear Matters.
A perfected ultralight set up results in more time to enjoy the experiences of your endeavor. Our Dyneema® Composite Fabrics (formerly Cuben Fiber) Stuff Sacks and Pods let you achieve that perfection with myriad ways to dial in, organize, protect, and even lighten the system that works best for you. Every piece of your kit is as important as the last. Pack discipline starts here.
What was meant to be an exploratory mission bikepacking in British Columbia with a seasoned crew of altitude-hungry mountain bikers could easily have doubled as the ultimate ‘Google Earth Sandbag.’
The plan was to travel by bike along the northeastern border of Canada’s Glacier National Park, venturing through a maze of tectonic uplift in search of steep, scree-filled chutes that had never before been ridden. The total distance would be about 200 kilometers, and the team reckoned it could be completed in six to eight days. This was easier said than done. These mountains boasted some of the most technical terrain any of them had ever seen. Every morsel of purchase was parceled with sweat equity. It was do or die. The mountains would take no prisoners. They would offer no quarter.
Most of the expeditions I have been on during my 35 years as an alpinist have involved trudging up from the foothills into the mountains under a massive pack. I was often loaded down with 75+ pounds of climbing gear, camping supplies and food for up to two weeks. However, from a basecamp or road head I had also experienced going fast and light in the mountains, especially in the Winds. And after setting the FKT speed ascent of Mt. Gannett, my eyes started looking out across the range for a bigger objective. Why not try and traverse the entire Wind River Range in a single push?
I stood at the Northern terminus of the Continental Divide Trail, amid the acrid haze of the wildfires that had filled my lungs for the better part of a month. My dirt stained fingertips hesitantly touched the cold, coarse granite monument that gave my Triple Crown a sense of finality after three years of life on the trail(s). While the moment was both powerful and precious, I felt suffocated by the question of what now?
Salt Lake City, UT (January 15, 2018) – The family and close friends of the late Kyle Dempster, with the support of Outdoor Research, Higher Ground Coffee, Black Diamond, CiloGear, Keen Footwear, PROBAR, La Sportiva, Liberty Mountain, Hyperlite Mountain Gear and Duct Tape Then Beer, are excited and proud to announce the first annual Kyle Dempster Solo Adventure Award.
One of America’s great young alpinists best known for first ascents of big remote peaks around the globe, Kyle Dempster was a passionate climber, adventurer and friend who fully lived his 33 years before he and his climbing partner Scott Adamson disappeared while attempting to climb the North Face of the Ogre II in Pakistan, in August of 2016.
Though Kyle loved climbing, traveling and going on adventures with friends, many of his most memorable and creative trips were done alone, traversing wild corners of the world by himself and under his own power. From kiteskiing hundreds of miles across Baffin Island, to his biking and climbing trip across Kygryzstan that was made famous in the short film The Road from Karakol, Kyle found a deep sense of meaning and joy in exploring the world on his own.
Each year, the Kyle Dempster Solo Adventure Award will be given to an American solo adventurer embarking on a journey that embodies Kyle’s passionate spirit and love of exploration, with an emphasis on storytelling and leave no trace ethics. The recipients are by no means limited to climbers, and the trips awarded by no means must involve the big mountains Kyle loved—on the contrary, we encourage applications for human-powered solo adventures of all kinds—big or small, remote or urban, cold and icy or hot and sunny.
Applications will be accepted from January 15 – March 15, 2018 for trips taking place between April 1, 2018 – March 31, 2019.
Words & Photos by Paul Burbidge // Videos by Dylan Stewart
We’d made the Mackenzie River and the trip was over. We still had 100 kilometers of river to paddle but the unknowns were behind us and we started paddling by ourselves, in our own heads. We were already partly home and tied up with future activities, work, spouses etc. Or maybe this was just me. I struggle with being able to see my future. The Mackenzie River is wide, slow and straight. Wide means two kilometers wide and straight means sections long enough that the river has a horizon line- like the ocean. There is no unknown. Our next few hours were laid out in front of us. They would be long and hot and we’d have to paddle to make up for the lack of current. Our paddling didn’t seem to have any effect but we moved along.