Words by Annie MacWilliams // Photos by Brian Threlkeld With Love, from a Triple Crowner 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 […]
Category: Ultralight EDU: Trip Planning + Prep
Photo by @republicofdoom // Brooks Range, Alaska
Achieving critical efficiencies in the backcountry is no small feat. It requires an exceptional level of organization, with an eye toward details and planning. Simply put, there’s a lot to think about before you head out on the trail with minimal gear to get you where you’re going.
There are routes to be planned, travel logistics to work out, a team to assemble and coordinate, and permits to apply for. Add physical preparation, plus contingency and safety strategies, and you have a recipe for stress and trepidation.
With the right tools and approach, super calculated trip planning and prep become a complicated means to an elegantly simple end. Front loading the complexity is a means of leaving the actual trip—the time outside—as stripped down and clean as possible. In the words of Hyperlite Mountain Gear ambassador Luc Mehl, "all that’s left to think about is interacting with the landscape, and my buddies."
Words & Photos by Robin “Little Spoon” Standish
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?
Musings from the end of the trail(s).
It had first reverberated in my head but now coursed throughout my body, gripping my heart in the form of a rattling anxiety. Dusk settled in around me and cast a murky orange hue that lay suspended in the thick, heavy, air. I tried to draw an invisible line under my accomplishment. To see it as the success that it was supposed to be, but all the glory I’d imagined for this moment was no match for the clawing tendrils of reality that reached out for me. I thought back to my first day on the Continental Divide Trail and the infinite miles that were mine for the taking. Time. I had so much time.
I stepped away from the rusty, mangled barbed wire that separated countries and effortlessly slid back into my world feeling the external clutter melt away in the heat of the mid-morning sun. I followed the faint footpath, cow trails, and occasional markers across the Chihuahuan desert. The sand slipped from under my feet like the imaginary hourglass that quietly emptied in the back of my head. The trail offered no benevolence, constantly tossing me back and forth between pleasure and pain, serenity and insanity.
I learned thousands of miles ago that it was easier to surrender to the will of the trail. Though she always had the last laugh I couldn’t help but laugh along with her gracelessly, manically all the while deeply sun burnt and questioning my intentions in this desolate place. Hikers often speak of freedom, liberation, and the community, but beyond that is something stronger, darker, and more mysterious – an enchantment of the heart, which is not so easy to articulate.
I HAD FOUND A HOME IN A PLACE THAT BELONGED TO NO ONE: ALONG THE CONTOURS OF THE DUSTY TRAIL, BENEATH THE BLUE LIGHT OF DUSK, IN COW PASTURES, BURNT FORESTS, AND ON STORMY RIDGE LINES.
I slept to the delicate hum of insects and was unperturbed by nocturnal hunters for I felt just as wild as them. I rose with the sun and walked to the rhythm of my beating heart, untangling the misconception that comfort and happiness were one in the same. Belonging had been found by leaving everything behind, rejecting the confines of fear and step by step easing the spirit by traveling into the unknown. This was life in perpetual motion with no intentions of conquest or laying claim but only to wander farther and deeper into the possibilities of self, and to understand the world with a more expansive view.
As Canada drew closer, the wildfires that consumed the Pacific Northwest exploded, the trail began to close and reroute almost hourly. The information was convoluted and had often changed by the time we heard it. I felt like a refugee, my home slipping out from under me leaving me scrambling for something to hold onto. Myself and many other hikers waited in a town that waited for evacuation orders creating an air of tense uncertainty. It felt apocalyptic, a gray veil draped delicately over the trees, the streets, and our shoulders. Ash and embers swirled down from the dark sky and sirens echoed into the once peaceful woods. We were all waiting for some kind of direction but as with much of the CDT this was just another time to choose our own adventure
I found solace and defeat in the shower of a grimy hotel room. With water as hot as I could stand it and my forehead resting against the plastic wall I tried to will coherent thoughts through a cloud of smog and too much beer. I watched blood drip from my nose into the steaming puddles around my feet, splattering finely against my ankles. Water beaded and rolled off the sticky layers of oil, dirt, and sweat that I wore proudly in towns as if to say: I am not one of you. No matter how hard I scrubbed my skin, it remained stained by my environment, absorbed into me no less then I was in it. Despite the clutter of thoughts that hammered at me, my internal compass remained unwavering in its direction that my feet would follow.
It wasn’t that I wanted to walk a shoulder-less highway for two hundred miles, or that I enjoyed the consequences of filling myself with toxins, and above all I realized that it wasn’t about the Triple Crown either. It probably never was. The words had only provided me a distant obscure goal, a palpable, clean, excuse to explain why I had to keep coming back. But there is a truth for which there are no words, that is woven into the contrails of morning or glissades by on a windy afternoon, piece by piece infiltrating the heart, the soul, and the bones and that is what draws me back and makes me stay. Things just make sense. For the last several weeks I had reassured myself that the end was not as close at it felt. Don’t worry I thought there are still 500 miles left. 400 miles left. 300. 200. Then desperately I just need more time.
AS UNAPPEALING AS MY OPTIONS FOR MAKING IT TO CANADA WERE, THE ALTERNATE WAS EVEN LESS SO. THERE WOULD BE NO SATISFACTION IN RETURNING TO MY OTHER REALITY ANY SOONER THAN NECESSARY.
With the pavement hot under my feet, I left the woods and took to the highway. Drivers turned their heads in bewildered amusement and newspaper writers stopped to ask questions. Others slowed down just long enough to ask if I needed a ride or water before leaving me in plumes of dust, smoke, and exhaust, though it was hard to tell the difference anymore. This was the CDT getting the last laugh and while my feet turned raw and knees numb I laughed too if from nothing more than delirium.
In the evening when the road became still I listened for water, a commodity now that I no longer had maps to tell me where the next source would be. I stumbled down a cut bank and found a shallow creek outlined by drooping fireweed, animal tracks and crusty cow patties. Relaxing into the dirt, I sank my swollen, hot feet into cool liquid and waited for my dinner water to boil, feeling utterly content. I admired the long white scars carved into my calves by the wicked thorns of the Ceanothus bushes and Cat Claws and touched the notches scooped out around my ankles and knees from crossing talus fields covered in snow.The developed land was too vast to be quantified, and the endless ribbon of pavement made my head spin with boredom. I marveled at how two worlds, so completely different could be in such close proximity yet unaware of each other. It was my hope that by the end of the third trail I would have figured out how to make them harmoniously coexist in my life, yet I had reached no such conclusion. Over the last 8,000 miles I had come to understand that the trouble with thru hiking is that what was once a means to escape the ordinary had effectively become my ordinary and the line between was increasingly blurred by the time spent. I had never felt so far away from creating that delicate, precarious balance between the life I loved and the one that I was expected to return to and exist in. The conflicting desires and identities hung over me often, though always the heaviest towards the end of a trail.
My toes slid over the bony lump on my left foot where I had broken it on the Appalachian Trail and convinced myself that if I wore shoes a size to small it would mimic a cast so I could continue walking. My body had become a collage of memories and experiences etched into my skin. It was a constant reminder of the places that had so drastically helped shape my perspectives and clear away the smokescreen of the material world that had lost its grip on me.
THE TRAILS HAVE TAKEN ME IN MANY UNEXPECTED DIRECTIONS BUT WHEN I LOOK BACK AT THE BIG PICTURE I SEE A SPIDER WEB OF PERFECT CONNECTIONS, SOMEHOW ALWAYS ENDING UP RIGHT WHERE I NEEDED TO BE, WITH SOME LESSON LEARNED THOUGH LIKELY LOST ON ME IN THE MOMENT.
When I felt fast and strong I would be confronted by raging stream crossings or by miles of sun cups that deeply pockmarked the snowy landscape on the Pacific Crest Trail. When I was weak and tired the next water source would be discouragingly far away. And when disheartened I would climb up to a pass and gaze out into the vast rows of canyons and frozen mountain peaks whose reflections wavered in the high alpine lakes and be lost in a stunning moment of bliss.
There was part of me that thought that it was the trails that made me so resilient and strong, independent and bold, compassionate and patient, beautiful and humble. I had created a correlation between my self-worth and the trail and perhaps that is why I always feel an overwhelming need to return: because those dusty, meandering, foot paths somehow make me feel like I’m better person out there, than in civilization.
But as I sat in my filth shoveling ramen and cheese greedily down my throat, I realized that all of those attributes had always been inherent in me and that the trail had only helped me realize it for myself. I had to quit believing that walking thousands of miles would be my only source of happiness though it will likely be the one that always pulls the hardest. That’s the thing about wilderness travel, it always leaves me longing for the next ridge, longing to be swallowed by the impenetrable silence of the desert just before sunrise, and longing to flip the hourglass and slip back into the unknown trusting that it will take me to exactly where I need to go.
Our friend Robin Standish is nothing if not committed. Her dedication to life on the trail takes many forms: stacked up thru hikes, beautiful photographs of wild places and in this case, a well-thought-out, soulful investigation of the sidecar realities that going ultralight carries—out there, in actual practice. Give her a follow on Instagram (@walking_thru) to see what she gets into next.
Words & Photos by Bethany “Fidgit” Hughes + Lauren “Neon” Reed
“I don’t think a thru-hiker would much enjoy the Greater Patagonian Trail,” Neon, a Triple Crowner and my hiking partner in tackling the length of the Andes, mused. We were taking a yerba mate break about a month after hiking the Greater Patagonian Trail over the course of two seasons. “Thru-hiking is a balance between total suckage and astounding beauty and there are some long, sucky sections,” she completed the thought around long draws on the metal straw.
The Greater Patagonian Trail is a succession of routes created to enable distance hikers to immerse themselves in Patagonian landscape and culture. You can’t fully appreciate one without the other. This means you have to know how to handle yourself on long, remote distances AND communicate in Spanish while being able to adapt to Patagonian social standards. Any combination of these and you will enjoy large segments of the various routes but a straight thru-hike kinda sucks.
Yet, even in the years of its nascence, each season there have been successful distance-hikers. Though, as the trail continues to grow and evolve based on feedback from hikers, the trail is never the same. Of the GPT class of 2017, Pia and Oliver walked sections 6-24 all the way through. In the same season an older couple set out to spend as much time as possible on sections of trail, managing to stay out for up to three weeks at a time. We tip our sun beaten hats to both teams.
As Jan, the spearhead and co-creator, along with his wife Meylin, puts it, “there are three kinds of people attracted to the Greater Patagonian Trail: The noise makers (people who seek glory and attention), those who want to go fast, and those who come to appreciate it. This trail system was created for appreciation.”
You can hike one segment or connect a series of routes, depending on what the tempremental Patagonian weather allows. This season Jan and Meylin extended the trail south to Fitz Roy as we explored a northern route which connects it to Santiago, Chile, covering some of the most remote and challenging terrain I have ever encountered. Before you pack your bags and head south to the GPT, I thought it would be worth highlighting the three biggest hurdles we’ve faced along the trail so far.
1) IT’S EXPENSIVE
Many people are mistakenly under the impression that all of South America is cheap. Due to the remoteness of some of these areas, we have found prices generally commensurate to the cost of goods and services in the U.S. After purchasing quality and hardy gear, plane tickets, international traveler’s insurance, you should budget at least $800 per month per person.
As the route is yet in its infant years, the communities around it do not have experience with distance hikers, though they are excited to begin tourism industries. They are a people of many hats, out here in the campos and cordilleras. Everyone is a guide of some sort, along with a woodworker, farmer, weaver, construction worker, and any other opportunity which presents itself. For example, the hostel owner in Antuco also rents cabins, runs a hardware store, and wants to open a restaurant. He is 68 years old.
As we make them aware of this route and the rapidly growing number of hikers and explorers flocking to it, they see opportunity. The impression we hikers leave will be directly correlated with the amount of courtesy and business we bring, especially in these early stages. You may not have to get a room at the hospedaje in order to use their wi-fi, but you should at least purchase a juice or soda in the front room restaurant.
2) IT’S NOT A TRAIL
The GPT, as it exists today, has no official designation. Many segments exist as wilderness connections between actual trails. In this way, you can be hiking along quite happily on a beautiful, clear little track when you check your GPS to find the route suddenly diverted along that ridge a kilometer back.
Some of the connections go through punishing yet delicate natural landscapes: peat bogs; scree passes where tiny, hardy flowers fought hard to take root. We humans, in petty efforts to keep our feet dry or not fall off cliffs, tromp heavily and unsteadily. Through many of these sections the route “straight lines,” which we have come to learn means, “choose your own adventure.” Make it through however you can. The disadvantage to this is that higher traffic means overall greater impact on fragile areas.
By nature it also requires both the ability to read your GPS as well as the land itself. Physical maps of the route do not exist, and even in many of the national parks the best you can hope for is a nice tri-fold pamphlet. In the areas where it follows cow paths, the paths interweave and change seasonally, and you need to be able to follow the path laid out by the smart cows and check that against your GPS.
You will have to get a feel for the times when you ought to follow the line on the GPS precisely to within a meter through bamboo forests, and other times when it will be best to take an altogether different approach, or even, when to turn back. I can offer no rhyme or reason to it except to say, if the trail crosses a river, only to cross it again and you think you see a way to stay on one side without the back and forth, you are wrong. Cross the damn river.
3) YOU WILL BE TRESPASSING
Anyone set on thru-hiking the Greater Patagonian Trail needs to realize you do not have the right to thru-hike the Greater Patagonian Trail. While it does a good job of connecting park trails and routes such as the Sendero de Chile or various Rutas Partrimonial, many portions cross through private land. Some areas are occupied by owners and their animals (at least seasonally), others are vast tracts owned by some wealthy individual who lives in the capital or another country, guarded by caretakers with explicit orders not to let anyone pass. We have only been threatened with a gun once. This is because we have quickly learned the customs and manners of how to engage.
Most of the time, people do not mind you crossing their land, just be courteous about it. Beyond the obvious: leave gates as you find them, pack out your trash, don’t have fires, and learn the rules of engagement. For one, as your route approaches a homestead, begin to whistle. This alerts humans and animals alike that someone is approaching and can avoid some nastiness. If they stand expectantly, approach and introduce yourself. If your command of Spanish allows, ask permission to cross their land. If they are at a distance and continue with their work, simply waving will serve your purposes.
Knowing cultural manners will have a major impact on how the communities the route passes through sees hikers. There is much more of a group-care way of thinking in these communities, which have often been ignored by governments and companies except where they see resources which might be exploited for gain (read up on the Sin Represas movement). If you are lucky enough to be invited in, or offered to drink a yerba mate, make time for it: this is how trust and relationship is established. It is an opportunity for both parties to better understand one another.
Some of these people, living out in the humblest puestos (seasonal “shacks” where people spend the summer with their animals in the high valleys) will offer you their very last piece of bread, and you would be rude to refuse, as, to them, that is to say what they offer is not good enough. They will continue to offer and give until you say to stop. Compliment whatever is given, and express interest in the things they make, which is easy because up in these remote places, they make almost everything themselves. In these instances it is also important that you contribute a gift. Be it yerba mate, tobacco, some sweets, soap or shampoo, a trinket, what have you. Always carry something to give.
It is also customary to offer to help with labor. The generally ageing population of the mountains who know how to survive in these places face a massive amount of work and, in exchange for their hospitality, helping with chores around the house, cooking, and working with the animals is an important offering and reflects the selflessness with which they are sharing all they have with you.
En fin, in order to properly enjoy the GPT, one should have a command of cultural sensitivity as well as GPS and route-finding sense. Ability with the language is also helpful. You have to be comfortable with breaking the law but know when to ask permission to break it and when to put your head down and keep your trap shut. When to bolster up and push on and when to wait out the storm, both in terms of the tempestuous weather and in communication with people. This trail has been the most punishing and the most magical experience of my hiking career to date.
Bethany “Fidgit” Hughes and Lauren “Neon” Reed have been using and (rigorously) testing our 3400 Southwest Packs,Ultamid 2 + Mesh Insert and a variety of DCF Stuff Sacks since the beginning of their Her Odyssey journey from South America to Alaska in 2015. They’re constantly posting insights, photos and videos from the trail – so make sure you give them a follow on Facebook and Instagram.
Here’s the recap video from Her Odyssey’s first season of the journey.
Photos by Bryan Carroll Over the past several years, we’ve been lucky enough to build a pretty substantial community around Hyperlite Mountain Gear as the business has grown. Making gear that people really connect with has translated to a lot of relationships and a lot of stories—a major side-benefit of doing what we do. […]
The post Hike Stronger: Get Prepared for a Great Season with Specialized Exercises appeared first on Hyperlite Mountain Gear Blog.
Ultralight Thru Hike Gear List: Chief Adventure Office Mike St. Pierre is one of few highly successful business owners in the outdoor industry who tests the company's gear in extreme situations.
The post Long-Distance, Lightweight Thru Hiking Gear List (for the Grand Canyon) appeared first on Hyperlite Mountain Gear Blog.
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 post Prepping For a Grand Canyon Thru Hike (a guide to multi-sport expedition planning) appeared first on Hyperlite Mountain Gear Blog.
Words 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 […]
The post Our Ultralight Appalachian Trail Thru Hike Gear List appeared first on Hyperlite Mountain Gear Blog.
Imagine a desolate desert of snow and ice as far as you can see, devoid of all vegetation and with only a few living creatures–penguins, seals and seabirds. Antarctica still seems a vast white landscape untouched by humans. But while Antarctica may seem like some unreachable and unfathomable place, adventuring in the continent is becoming increasingly popular. More […]
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 […]
The post Ultralight Backpacking Food Prep For Extreme Thru Hikes appeared first on Hyperlite Mountain Gear Blog.
Words by Roman Dial Packrafting. First off, what the heck is it? When you go packrafting, you are using a small, lightweight inflatable boat to cross and float rivers, streams or lakes, and even run rapids or cross saltwater bays and fjords. Packrafts are tough and can do whatever bigger boats will do, but they also […]