Application dates, process, and expectations

If your 2024 plans involve a guided trip with us, this page will help you navigate the application process and to set your expectations.

How to apply

  1. Pay your Application Fee, which will be credited to the cost of your trip; and,
  2. Complete the Application Form.

When to apply

We will accept applications for all 2024 trips starting on:

  • Tuesday, December 5, 2023

For the first two to three weeks, it’s an open application period, and applications received will be considered mostly equally, as described below under “Prioritization.”

There is no advantage in registering on the first day that we accept applications. However, so that we can meet our deadlines I ask that you not wait until the last-minute.

The open application period will end at 11:59 PM MST (-7:00 UTC) on:

  • Utah (April): Monday, December 18, 2023;
  • Alaska (June): Monday, December 18, 2023;
  • California (July): Tuesday, December 26, 2023;
  • Washington (September): Thursday, December 28, 2023
  • Yellowstone (September): Thursday, December 28; and,
  • West Virginia (October): Thursday, December 28, 2023.

After the open application period ends, applications will be considered on a first-come first-served basis for remaining spots. If you missed the deadline, don’t despair — submit your application ASAP and I can almost assure you that we’ll find a spot eventually. It gets harder once spots are offered, but there are always cancellations through the season.

For what are you applying?

In the Application Form, you will be asked to select a Top Choice trip, or the trip that you most want to get on. You will select a location (e.g. Utah) and a trip type/duration (e.g. Adventure 7-day).

Then, you will be asked to rate your interest in each location. Your options

  • First Choice
  • Second Choice
  • Not interested

If you select First Choice or Second Choice for a location, you will be asked about your interest in each session scheduled for that location. Again, you rank them First Choice, Second Choice, or Not interested.

If your schedule allows it, I encourage you to indicate interest in multiple sessions and even locations. By being more flexible, we can more easily find you a spot.

If this description isn’t clear, preview the Application Form in PDF format before you start it, available on the Application Form page.

Our review process

We start by grouping applicants who share the same Top Choice location and trip type.

Then, we read each application thoroughly, and assess each one in three criteria:

  1. Qualifications
  2. Fitness Level
  3. Technical Difficulty

To view our required and preferred qualifications, refer to the Trip Types page.

To read about the Fitness Level and Technical Difficulty ratings, refer to that page.

We give “bonus points” to clients whose previous trip was cancelled, like because of wildfires; as well as previous applicants who were waitlisted.

Once all applications are reviewed and rated, we start forming groups and offering spots. The process goes something like this:

  1. Group applicants by Fitness Level and Technical Difficulty;
  2. Then sort those applicants by their Qualifications;
  3. Offer spots, starting with applicants who exceed the qualifications and then applicants who meet the qualifications;
  4. Balance groups by alumni status, age, gender, and other smaller details.

You’ve applied. Now what?

I will offer all or most spots:

  • For Utah and Alaska, by Friday, December 29, 2023; and,
  • For California, Washington, Yellowstone, and West Virginia, by Friday, January 5, 2024.

While processing applications, I will keep you regularly informed of my progress and your status. Please be patient with me — it takes a long time to thoroughly read and evaluate each application, and we put a lot of thought into the makeup of each group.

My expectations

Each year our trips sell out completely, and that will probably happen again in 2024. The real question is: What is the gap between our supply of spots and the demand for them. Here, I’ll try to speculate.

Utah. In past years this has been one of our largest operations, sometimes even ahead of California. The land agencies do not strictly cap our use through a quota or permit system, and we have ample room to spread out, so our limitations relate more to our administrative and guide capacity. We’ll be able to match demand if it’s similar to 2022 or 2023.

Alaska. Many want to backpack in the Brooks Range, but very few feel comfortable planning and undertaking their own trip. So competition is stiff for the limited spots we have available. If you’re a first-time applicant, or if you’re an alumnus with only baseline experience, I’d encourage you to have a backup plan. I don’t feel comfortable offering more trips in 2024 than we did in 2023 (eight).

California. This location typically receives the greatest demand, for good reason. I think most trips will be full by the end of the open application period. In February or March, we may be able to open more trips if we are successful in securing more commercial and wilderness permits and if we have the guides to lead them. Until then, we will only fill trips that are certain to run.

Washington. Demand and supply seem well balanced here. I should be able to find spots for most who want one. These trips will sell out eventually, if not immediately.

Greater Yellowstone. This would be a new location for us in 2024, and I’m uncertain what demand will be, in absolute terms or relative to Washington. I will be reluctant to run more than two or three trips at a time (so 6 to 9 total) as we figure out this new setting.

West Virginia. As our lone East Coast location, this spot gets a lot of interest because of the geographical convenience and because many applicants want Appalachian-specific knowledge. But it’s months away, in October. It will sell out eventually, if not immediately.