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Breakin’ Records

Breakin’ Records

I am pleased to announce that my ex co-worker Shawn Forry has successfully broken the speed record of the fastest unsupported hike of the Colorado Trail. Get this – he beat it by four days. His official time was 10 days, 19 hours and 5 minutes.

For those of you not in the know, the Colorado Trail is a beautiful long distance hike that runs from just southwest of Denver (Waterton Canyon), to Durango. All in all, the trail is 486 miles. If you do the math, that means Shawn averaged around 46 miles per day in his hike. Pretty impressive, huh? The trail loses and gains around 89,000ft of elevation over its full length, with a maximum elevation of 13,271ft.

This type of hiking is referred to as ultra-lite thru-hiking. Like these hikers, most of the sport is dedicated to lightening your pack to a ridiculous degree and becoming very efficient in the backcountry. This can include anything from food rationing, stripping your pack of unnecessary materials, to even making your own down quilt (which Shawn has done). I guess all I am trying to say is that there’s a bit more involved than just cutting your toothbrush in half.

Shawn is no stranger to this sport, however. As I mentioned in a post a few months ago, Shawn hiked the entire length of the High Himalaya Trail, which is also no small feet. It almost feels wrong to call it a trail, and you’ll know what I mean if you watch this video of Shawn’s Himalayan journey:

All of this being said, it is very refreshing to see a “normal person” succeed in outdoor sports. Shawn is very much liker every one of us and he is very passionate about this sport. He is definitely one of the top thru-hikers in the entire world, and his resume proves it. Even if you don’t know this guy, you’ll see what I mean. Check out his website here.

It’s the Little Things

It’s the Little Things

We’ve had a whole lot of people coming into the shop looking for backpacks. If people are looking for backpacks, that means they are backpacking. If people are backpacking, that means they want to carry the least amount of weight possible. But, most people don’t want to sacrifice their luxuries in the backcountry. There are ways to have your cake and eat it too.

Something I always tell people when they are trying to be efficient in the backcountry is that it’s all about the little things. If you can make your packing process an exact science, then you’re backpacking experience will be something you can enjoy DURING the trip and not just a couple years after you get back. So here are a couple things I’ve learned about backpacking in my experience:

 

  1. You Don’t Need That

If you’re on the border line about bringing something on the trip – especially clothing – you probably don’t need it. The money you spend on synthetic or wool clothing is “money well spent” for a reason. This expensive clothing gives you a special freedom – the freedom to wear the same pair of clothes for days on end. So instead of packing changes of t-shirts, pants, underwear, etc., trust the clothes on your back. That being said, there is one rule that I can always count on. It is always colder than you think it’s going to be. So replace those changes of clothes with a down jacket.

 

  1. You Can Always Count on the Necessities (Food Matters)

Something I never skimp on is food and water. Some people really like to go “ultra-light” with these and I never recommend it. I WILL NOT enjoy my trip if I’m eating granola bars and olive oil for every meal and drinking 1 liter of water a day. Pack food you will enjoy and that can be made easily. You can still experiment with weight by looking at the little things (eating directly out of the cooking pot, making your own super spice instead of bringing multiple, bringing really starchy foods to fill you up easily). As far as water goes, the lightest system I have come up with is the MSR bladder/20oz water bottle combo. If you need 4 liters of water, you can use the bladder. If not, you can roll up the bladder and just sip out of your water bottle.

  1. It’s Fun to be Creative

A forgotten aspect of a backpacking trip is the ingenuity. If you consider backpacking a sport (I consider it the means to get to a sport), then you should enjoy getting into the science of packing and preparing. If you’re like me, then you’re not a wealthy individual. Anyone can pack light if they dish out thousands of dollars on the latest gear. Try experimenting with the equipment you have. Do you have buckles on your pack that you don’t use? Cut them off. Remember: ounces in the pack are pounds on your back. Don’t get to use your impressive sewing skills enough? Try sewing your own flannel sleeping bag liner (or even sleeping bag!). Want to try your engineering skills in the kitchen? Try making a stove (hint: all you need is a coke can). My point is that part of the sport is testing out what works and doesn’t work.

 

Those are just a few of the things that I think about when people ask me about packing their backpack. Like me, too many people forget about the “sport” of backpacking. It’s more than just a means of transportation in the backcountry. You can take pride in the way you backpack. It may not be the sexiest sport – but people can’t ignore that it is downright impressive when someone can have more fun with less weight.

 

A New Last Chance

A New Last Chance

This past weekend a group of us climbers made a trip out to the newly reopened Last Chance Canyon in southern New Mexico.

I checked with the National Forest Service last week, and they had decided to open up the canyon the day before I called. The canyon had been closed for the past year and half due to wildfire fires caused by people camping in the canyon. Despite the fire, our group was in store for a pleasant surprise as we made our way out of Carlsbad.

We had gathered a large amount of people for the trip, around 13 people. While this can be a large amount of people to deal with during a climbing trip, it turned out to be a great experience for people who had not been in the canyon yet – as well as those who haven’t climbed in the outdoors before. After driving in late to the canyon on Saturday night, we woke up early the next morning to hit the walls.

The canyon was a bit different after being re-shaped by all of the fires of last year. The vegetation had fully regrown and was looking more vibrant than ever. The spiked limbs of the yucca and agave grabbed at our legs as we descended the trail into the bottom of the beautiful desert canyon. To our surprise, there was a fair amount of water in the bottom of the canyon – a rare sight in the area. We hiked up to a popular warm-up wall called “Breakfast Wall.” The collection of fun, moderate routes makes a perfect spot for people to get warmed up and get experience lead climbing. On this trip alone we had four people get on lead climbs for the first time.

The trip had taken a very relaxed atmosphere at this point, which I believe we were all ok with. We took our time climbing the routes at the first wall and then began our hike to the next – “Fossil Wall.” This wall contains a bit more difficult selection of routes, which gave some of us the chance to get on more difficult and challenging climbs. A few of us decided to try our hand at a 5.12, which led to the sacrifice of one of my quickdraws, but worth the loss altogether. As the sun drifted below the rim of the canyon, our group began to meander up to the campsite. We organized our sleeping area and made some spicy fajitas before bedding down.

We woke the next morning feeling particular sore, a product of the lack of climbing from most of our group. A few of us decided to hike down into the canyon once more to climb at “Violin Wall.” I climbed enough to get myself tired and scared, as did the other climbers in our group. We baked in the sun and finished our last route before hiking out and driving home.

The climbing during the weekend was definitely not the impressive part of our trip. It was encouraging and interesting to see how things have changed in the canyon that I learned to climb. As the people taught me how to get around in Last Chance, I saw new people being exposed to this awesome area. They got their first lead climbs in and showed more promise than I could have ever hoped to show in my first climbs.

Last Chance Canyon has been rehabilitated and is ready for a new group of climbers to protect and preserve it. The canyon has been closed due to a lack of care and respect for a fragile and beautiful environment. I truly believe the people involved with this southern New Mexico gem will keep it open for the next group of beginners to learn the ropes (no pun intended). The canyon has so much to offer and I hope people use it to its fullest. Either way I need to get my quickdraw back.