On Sunday I began accepting applications for my 2020 trips. This will be our ninth year in operation, and the program has evolved since I started guiding under my own company in 2011. By the end of that first season, I’d made three realizations:
- The clients generally lacked the requisite backcountry skills for interesting routes, but wanted them;
- I was genuinely interested in teaching these skills, as a personal passion and as a value-add for the program; and,
- No other organization was using modern gear and techniques (sorry, NOLS), or hiring all-stars from the ultralight and long-distance communities, which had already redefined backpacking and have continued to do so.
So for 2012, I reformulated the program, and offered both intro-level Backpacking Fundamentals courses and longer learning-oriented Adventure trips. And I started working with backpackers who had extraordinary first-hand experience, notably Alan Dixon, Brian Robinson, and Mike Clelland.
It took us a few seasons to build out the curriculum, and each year I make small adjustments based on client feedback or technological changes. For example, last year I added GPS smartphone navigation as a dedicated tutorial.
In 2020, what are the top seven skills that you could learn with us?
1. Gear selection
What should you pack so that you’re appropriately prepared but not carrying more than you need? Your group will first be tasked with researching the conditions we will likely encounter. Then we’ll provide you a gear list template, which you must complete and which we will review afterwards.
2. Food planning
How much and what types of food should you prepare each day? We have some trail-tested recommendations, and we’ll treat you with stellar breakfast and dinner recipes that will forever cure you of Ramen noodles, instant oatmeal packets, or expensive freeze-dried meals.
3. Map making
Based on client feedback, we’re developing a more robust map-making module in this year’s Planning Curriculum. All clients will receive a free 6-month subscription to CalTopo plus some instruction, and you’ll be asked to create topographic maps for our trip.
4. On- and off-trail navigation
Can you proficiently read a map, dead reckon, operate a compass, use a smartphone GPS app, or find the path of least resistance when there is no trail? Navigation is usually the biggest focus when in the field, and we find that clients “get it” best when we challenge them with off-trail travel.
5. Early-season conditions
In Alaska in June and in Yosemite in July, we will encounter early-season conditions, including lingering snow, swift snowmelt-fed creeks, and occasionally prolific mosquitoes. All of these factors can be managed safely with proper gear and good decision-making.
6. Water management
The Colorado Plateau is one the most unique and wildest landscapes in the country. But water is in chronic short supply, and good water management is essential to recreating safely here. We’ll teach you how to ration your water, plan your camps, purify nasty sources, and track down this liquid gold.
7. Campsite selection
If you are deliberate about your camps, you can sleep better at night by finding sites that are relatively warm, dry, and soft; and where insects, critters, and bears are less likely to bother you.