Photo & text by Alan Dixon
If not the most difficult, a hike below the rim of the Grand comes close.
Learn about Ambassador Rich Rudow’s thru hike & Hyperlite Mountain Gear CEO Mike St. Pierre’s planning & prep for his 2 section hikes.
More than four thousand people have summited Mt. Everest. Two hundred and fifty people have walked 7,900 miles to complete the triple crown of hiking (walking the PCT, CDT and AT). Twenty-four astronauts left the Earth’s orbit for the moon. But only 12 people have ever walked the length of Grand Canyon in one continuous push and just a handful have done it in sections. Why? There are no towns for resupply, no base camps for logistics support, and in fact, no trails for the vast majority of the 700 miles. Traversing Grand Canyon is like walking a complex three-dimensional maze with delicate routes that include hundreds of thousands of vertical feet of scrambling and climbing up to low class five terrain. There isn’t a guidebook, and beta is sparse. To most people, this thru hike seems impossible. But for people like Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Rich Rudow, the foremost expert on slot canyons in the Grand, Hyperlite Mountain Gear Chief Adventure Officer (aka CEO) Mike St. Pierre, and a handful of others it’s not only possible, but one of life’s most exciting challenges. Rudow finished his thru hike late in 2015; St. Pierre has achieved the first two sections of the hike, and plans on finishing the entire journey within the next few years.
Get Out & Hike!
On June 4th we’re celebrating National Trails Day! Occurring the first Saturday of June, this American Hiking Society-sponsored day celebrates America’s magnificent Trail System. According to AHS: “The event evolved during the late ‘80s and ‘90s from a popular ethos among trail advocates, outdoor industry leaders and political bodies who wanted to unlock the vast potential in America’s National Trails System, transforming it from a collection of local paths into a true network of interconnected trails and vested trail organizations. This collective mindset hatched the idea of a singular day where the greater trail community could band together behind to show their pride and dedication to the National Trails System.”
At Hyperlite Mountain Gear we are committed to getting outdoor adventurers onto America’s trails because that’s where they rise to their most optimal selves. In celebration of these paths through the woods, mountains and deserts, we recently invested in two of the most important non-profit trail organizations–the Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC) and the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA). As well, we continually bring you new information on trails around the world, hiked by our Chief Adventure Officer Mike St. Pierre and our ambassadors. And we are committed to bringing you the ultralight hiking packs and lightweight shelters you need to use to hike those trails.
Stay tuned, we’ve got some great articles being published in the upcoming months about the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, the International Appalachian Trail and more.
On this special day, we’d like to encourage you to do a couple things:
- Become a member of the AHS, the PCTA, the CDTC, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), or any number of other trail non-profit organizations;
- Check out a list of great articles on our blog that highlight trails around the world (see below);
- Let us know if there are any trails you’d like us to write about;
- Get out hiking!
Great blog posts about various trails:
- All About Thru Hiking & Backpacking in the Grand Canyon (numerous articles by Mike St. Pierre)
- Appalachian Trail: Hike Your Own Hike
- Trail Magic: Tales of a Trail Weenie on the Appalachian Trail
- Pacific Northwest Trail Challenges
- Sierra High Route: Chris Brinlee Jr.’s Brutal Adventure
- Tasmania’s Overland Track: A Photo Adventure
- From the Appalachian Trail to the Pacific Crest Trail
- The Te Araroa: New Zealand’s Thru Hike
- The Camino de Santiago: One Woman’s Lightweight Journey
- America to America: Hiking the Continent’s Longest “Trail”
A Master Cartographer Digs Deep to Find the Navigational Skills Needed to Succeed on One of the World’s Most Extreme Thru Hikes
By Clay Wadman, photos by Mike St. Pierre & Clay Wadman
Once I’m oriented, a map is nothing but a close-up of that mental image I form before every trip, an overview if you will, from space. I marvel at how far these maps have come since Major John Wesley Powell first came to the Southwest with pencil and paper and tried to make sense of these great cirques and valleys. To glance up at the cliffs and huge amphitheaters of the Grand Canyon’s Red Wall and then back down to the impossibly high tech orthographic projection of these features I hold in my hand, they are perfect and these images help me see their scale and shape even more clearly.
In this blog post, I recreated notes from the journal I took on the below-the-rim section hike of the Grand that Mike St. Pierre and I embarked on, March 2016. The section we did is part of what Rich Rudow calls, “The Grandest Walk“—a thru hike that traverses the Canyon below the rim. Mike plans on doing it in three sections; he invited me for the second leg of his journey. Though a mapmaker with decades of experience, I dug deep on this adventure. It was one of the most difficult of my life. Strong navigation skills and tools were integral to our success.
On day four of our trip we awake to grey—grey skies, grey fatigue, a grey attitude like fog from last night’s sand storm and bad water. Everything above the 6,000-foot level is washed in fresh snow, including the rim above us. In the Crystal Creek wash, clear alkaline-poison water laps at our boots. I want to see something good in everything and think to myself: “At least in the weeks to come, the potholes will be full on the Esplanade…” From the streambed, our escape route out of the Crystal is unobvious. We just descended from Shiva Saddle, one of the highest saddles on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and dropped all the way to the river. Now we need to climb back up through five or six of the major geologic groups in the canyon, this time to the Sagittarius Saddle.
If you’ve ever seen a photo looking down on the Grand Canyon from outer space you can see the dark, almost black looking boreal forests that cap one of the biggest “oxbow” bends on the planet. This immense arch stretches from Nankoweep at River Mile 53 all the way to Tapeats at River Mile 137. In the scorching desert of the American Southwest, this part of the geologic up-thrust that created the canyon itself, has become a forest of huge conifers and moisture, rising to an elevation of 10,000’.
I hold onto this mental image as I study the maps of the inner canyon. Not just a random sweep of bends and corners, the river has purpose and direction; from its genesis to its evolution, modern topographical science magically reveals each of its secrets. Read the rest of Wadman’s story.
Good times in Damascus, Virginia
For the fifth year in a row, we attended Appalachian Trail Days down in Damascus, Va., aka “Trail Town USA.” Every year, up to 20,000 tourists make their way to this tiny town of fewer than 1,000 people around the middle of May. And every year more and more folks visit our booth. Nearly 400 people attended the Saturday raffle, along with 20 hikers who gathered round for our first “How to Set Up Your Tarp” clinic with our Chief Adventure Officer (aka CEO) Mike St. Pierre and Ambassador and professional thru hiker Ashley “Bloody Mary” Hill.
“It was rad,” Hill said of the event. “Appalachian Trail Days is the largest outdoor, long-distance hiking event in the country, so there are a lot of veteran hikers and new hikers. People feed off each other; the veterans let the new hikers know they can complete this monumental task. And the veterans and other tourists get to be around the energy of people starting a thru hike; you can feel the enthusiasm and excitement! There’s so much community, culture and love surrounding this event.” Read the rest of the article.
Words by Mike St. Pierre // Photos by Mike St. Pierre & Clay Wadman
Planning and prepping for any major backcountry adventure, whether the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail or a section hike below the rim of the Grand Canyon, is logistically challenging. And unless you’re the first thru hiker, canyoneer or climber to map and explore the route, you must rely on information gathered from numerous sources, from Google Earth to the people who first explored the area. I prefer more remote trips as the lack of information makes them more adventurous. Plus, the fewer the resources you have to depend on, the more careful you have to be and the more you have to rely on your own experience to accomplish the feat (so you’d better have a lot of experience for bigger adventures). However, the popularity or the remoteness of your trip is relative; you’ll have a greater chance of success if you know what you’re getting into. You’ll also more likely succeed if you travel simply, use gear wisely and constantly refine and lighten your systems. This thru hiker approach is applicable whether you’re a long-distance backpacker or a climber, packrafter, skier, or passionate backcountry adventurer of any kind.
The Way of the Thru Hiker
Experienced thru hikers have walking dialed. They know exactly what they need to be efficient and conserve energy because they walk all day long. I took a thru hiker’s approach in very carefully planning the second leg of my section hike below the rim of the Grand Canyon. I made sure to have exactly what I needed and nothing more. I dialed in my knowledge of the terrain, weather, water sources and resupply points by doing extensive research. And I reached out to more experienced Grand Canyon thru hikers, rangers and other experts.
Subsequently, when I embarked on my 200+-mile thru hike/canyoneering adventure this March, I felt ready to go bigger and further, increasing my mileage and distance. I had already done the first section over two weeks in the fall of 2015 with Rich Rudow, whose decades of experience make him one of the foremost experts of America’s biggest canyon. He spent a full year plotting his path, the gear and his caches for his 57-day, 700-mile thru hike below the rim (Read more). I joined him for his first two weeks. Despite the gnarliest terrain and harshest conditions I had every experienced (or maybe because of them), I caught the bug and immediately started planning the second leg of my journey. I also trusted my own 15 years of experience in ultralight backpacking techniques.
So how did I do it? Of course, I can’t download my life’s experience with ultralight backcountry travel and gear in one article, but here’s an overview of how I planned my trip. It’s not comprehensive, and you shouldn’t assume you can thru hike below the rim of the Grand Canyon based off what you learn here. But, I’ll share the most valuable things I’ve learned from my backcountry experiences. They culminated in this section hike, which was definitely the most difficult and challenging adventure I’ve embarked on to date.
It’s never too late to change your gear. Ambassador “Tenderfoot” alters his lightweight Appalachian Trail gear kit one month in.
“Aches & Pains? I thought it was just walking on the AT?!”
Photos & text by Tyson “Tenderfoot” Perkins
Over 100 miles in, and I already feel like I have 100 years worth of stories. We’ve met more than 100 people, and we have over 100 aches and pains. The trail has taught me more in the last 10 days than I’ve learned in all my research of it over the last couple years. Sure you can figure out who the first person to hike it was, or how many steps it takes to the end. However, it’s almost impossible to learn something like this so in depth without actually being there and living it. A couple days ago when we took our zero day (on my 24th birthday), I answered a few questions for my co-workers at Hyperlite Mountain Gear about my lightweight Appalachian Trail gear kit, what I’ve changed, added and dropped. Here goes… Read More
An Increase in Number of Appalachian Trail Hikers Leads Baxter State Park To Implement Registration Cards. Plus, Other Things NOBO Hikers Should Know.
A fitting end to one of the world’s most famous trails, Katahdin (5,267 feet) is Maine’s highest mountain and the centerpiece of Baxter State Park (BSP). Steep, tall and surrounded by forests, it’s also an icon for tens of thousands of aspiring Appalachian Trail (A.T.) thru hikers. It’s the northern-most 14 miles of the A.T. When NOBO or section hikers enter the Park at Abol Bridge, they’ve got just nine miles to the Katahdin Stream Campground, where a special campsite—the Birches—is set aside for up to 12 long-distance hikers (which happens to be the same number of hikers allowed to summit Katahdin at one time, as a group).
However, because of movies like “A Walk in the Woods” and “Wild” as well as increasing numbers of well-known athletes hiking the A.T., the number of thru and section hikers is growing fast, and the impact on Katahdin, the Park and its other users is being impacted, sometimes negatively. According to Tenny Webster,a trail information specialist at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, 2016 could be a banner year in terms of numbers of people summiting Katahdin.
“We’re waiting to see what happens this year,” Webster says. “We typically see about 10% growth in the number of thru and section hikers who summit Katahdin each year. But this year may be an anomaly. We’re potentially looking at even greater numbers.”
So what’s a State Park, that’s already very carefully managed for use, to do? For starters, they’ll begin implementing a registration system for thru hikers this year. Read the rest of the post.
Words by by Tyson Perkins
Two Hyperlite Mountain Gear Employees Share their Appalachian Trail Thru Hike Gear List Planning & Prep
Early summer 2014, my girlfriend, Kendra Jackson, and I took on our second 5000-footer together—Mount Katahdin. Soon after waking up the day of our ascent we met a 20-something New York City-based mountain guide, Peter. A veteran thru-hiker, he had a wealth of knowledge about backcountry travel and the Appalachian Trail. He taught us about shelters that set up with trekking poles instead of your common tent poles, trail names, “Trail Magic,” “Zero Days,” “Nero Days,” “Hiker Hobble” and cleaning yourself with baby wipes. We immediately got overly enamored and stoked on this magically ridiculous world and decided to hike the “AT.” Fast travel to the summer of 2015, and Kendra and I began taking on adventures such as the Mahoosuc Range between New Hampshire and Maine in a weekend and returning to work on Monday.
On our first forays into the wilderness, we took awkward thrift store backpacks and a beaten-down double sleeping bag. We cooked dinner on a heavy propane stove right near our Walmart dome tent. Needless to say we had a ton of fun using terrible gear, but knew there had to be better options out there. Through my job as a tent maker at Hyperlite Mountain Gear, I gleaned a ton of ultralight knowledge from the owner, Mike St. Pierre. The more I learned, the easier our trips became. And, more importantly, we enjoyed our backcountry adventures even more. And now’s the time. We’re taking all that we have learned since 2014 and heading out for our Appalachian Trail thru hike. In this blog post I detail our planning, preparation and gear.
We really enjoyed planning the logistics of this trip, regularly geeking out over Excel spread sheets and line art graphs (Kendra developed the one published to the right) and the ultralight Appalachian Trail Gear we planned to take. We’ve meticulously categorized and sorted all our mail drop supplies along the AT, and we’ve mapped out our post office stops and planned out how we will meet up with Kendra’s parents in Shenandoah National Park. Everyone needs to take breaks, and we have come up with a plan to take some without compromising our March 4th to July 22nd timeline. If we stick to the plan, we’ll hike 16 miles a day on average. We’ve developed a “bank” system. Essentially, any miles we do over the 16-mile average we add to the bank, and once we have a days worth of miles in it, we can take a full day off. Also, we built in two full Zero Days. And, we planned our food and gear very carefully…
Stories and photos by Rich Rudow
How 2012 Outside Mag “Adventurer of the Year,” Rich Rudow, achieved one of his greatest objectives–a rarely done thru hike of the full length of the Grand Canyon.
More than four thousand people have summited Mt. Everest. Two hundred and fifty people have walked 7,900 miles to complete the triple crown of hiking (walking the PCT, CDT and AT). Twenty-four astronauts left the Earth’s orbit for the moon. But only 12 people have ever walked the length of Grand Canyon in one continuous push. Why? There are no towns for resupply, no base camps for logistics support, and in fact, no trails for the vast majority of the 700 miles. Traversing Grand Canyon is like walking a complex three-dimensional maze with delicate routes that include hundreds of thousands of vertical feet of scrambling and climbing up to low class five terrain. There isn’t a guidebook, and beta is sparse. To most people, this thru hike seems impossible. Fortunately, Dave Nally and Chris Atwood, my hiking partners on this journey, weren’t like most people. They had thousands of Grand Canyon off-trail miles under their belts too, and most importantly, we had hiked together many times on difficult Grand Canyon expeditions. I could count on their judgment, strength and fortitude.
But, I wondered, “Could I do it?” Would my 50-year-old body hold up to the rigors of a thru hike on some of the most difficult terrain on the planet for 57 continuous days? I made sure to cover my bases. We spent a year planning the expedition. We defined a highly detailed day-by-day route, identifying water sources and bailout options. We placed eight caches throughout the length of the Grand to resupply along the way. They contained food, extra approach shoes and hiking poles, first aid supplies, clothes for the changing seasons, a warmer sleeping bag for late Fall, maps for each leg of the route, technical climbing gear, and of course, tequila, coffee and peanut M&M’s. Selecting the right gear was paramount for success. A pack failure would end the trip. A shelter failure could be life threatening. Read on… the Expedition Begins!
We go out into the wilderness to remove ourselves from modern society and experience the beauty of nature in its untouched, finest self. I was drawn to the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) for that very reason; resources weren’t readily available, and it is still widely unknown in the hiking community. In fact, I met many rangers overseeing its terrain who hadn’t heard of its existence.
#1 Main Challenge: Mosquitos
There were three main challenges I experienced on the trail: mosquitos, keeping dry and navigation… especially when it came to my new proud vocabulary word “bushwhacking.” Let’s start with the mosquitos. They were so horrible at one time that I considered quitting my hike. You can’t do anything about the bugs… I carried three types of repellent, (100% DEET, aerosol spray, which I highly condone and eucalyptus lemon oil). Wait it out, and you’ll be fine. The mosquito issue only lasted about three weeks and will depend on each year’s weather conditions. Any thru-hiker can handle it, but it’s imperative to keep your moral high. Become one with the bugs! (Read more about how she dealt with bugs on her blog).
#2 Main Challenge: Staying Dry
Now, keeping dry is another story. Rain and river fords destroyed my feet. Even in record high weather temperatures, I still got soggy. I handled this struggle by purchasing improved rain gear, making mandatory stops on trail to dry my shoes and socks when the sun poked through and I ALWAYS kept my sleeping gear in a dry bag. If the rain stops at 8:45a.m., I’d be making hot cocoa on trail! Because the PNT is largely hiked in the summer months, there is more discomfort than danger regarding this issue. Hypothermia can occur in above freezing temperatures, so please remember this and use extreme caution. Read the rest of her article here!
Words & Photos by Don Carpenter
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Alaska is a special place. A large and diverse ecosystem of rivers and spruce forests exists on the south side of the Brooks Range, while glaciated peaks lie in the heart of the range, and the coastal plain expands to the north, with rivers draining into the Arctic Ocean.
On my first ski expedition to the high peaks of the Arctic Wildlife Refuge in 2014, my eyes were constantly drawn north. In that direction, the glaciated peaks of the Brooks Range transition to the open coastal plain and the Arctic Ocean beyond. I knew I wanted to go there someday.
Just over a year later, I found myself walking across the Refuge’s coastal plain, en route from the south side of the Brooks Range to Beaufort Sea. My three partners and I were traveling by packraft and foot, linking four rivers over 12 days. Our goal was to explore a vast, pristine landscape, while minimizing our impact by following the 7 Leave No Trace (LNT) principles.
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
4. Leave What You Find
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
6. Respect Wildlife
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Words by Mike St. Pierre
Prep Makes Perfect: Ultralight Backpacking Food Best Practices
I will soon be heading into the Grand Canyon for 16 days with Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Rich Rudow. Rich will be thru hiking about 700 miles down river and then back up the other side, all below the rim of the canyon and all off trail. Even though I’ll only be along for part of the trip, I’ll likely encounter some of the most extreme terrain I’ve ever faced. As a result, I’m putting extra thought into every aspect of my preparation. That goes double when it comes to figure out what I’m going to eat while I’m in the canyon, so I decided to revisit my standard ultralight backpacking food prep practices to see what I could improve.
Meet Ashley Hill, a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Trail Ambassador. Born and raised in San Jose, Calif., she has traveled around the world, worked for both the United Nations and Amnesty International and earned BA in Peace and Conflict studies. At a young age, she decided to go abroad, and so bought a one-way ticket to South America, where she visited Colombia, lived with a shaman in the Amazon and traveled the Caribbean Coast. But, in 2012, her life changed when she learned her mother’s cancer diagnosis had taken a turn for the worse. She packed up and went home. But the wanderlust returned after her mother passed away, and despite having very little outdoor experience, she decided to do a thru hike. Hill figured walking in the wilderness would help her both grieve and grow. So she set out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail Southbound from Canada to Mexico on July 12, 2014. “It was the best decision of my life,” Hill says. “After hitting the Mexican border, I knew I would be a hiker for the rest of my life.” Hill is currently in the midst of a Pacific Northwest Trail thru hike. She recently answered a few questions for us on a zero day. Read our Q&A with Ashley Hill!