Locations & Route Info

2022 locations

This season we will operate in six locations (in chronological order):

Southern Utah

Client ratings of this location:

  • 2021: 4.74/5.0
  • 2020: 4.81/5.0

In southern Utah we will follow canyon bottoms, scramble across slick rock, traverse sandy benches, and pass by ancient rock images around the Escalante River, a perennial tributary of the Colorado River that flows into Lake Powell. This area is a gem of the Colorado Plateau, but it thankfully lacks the hordes of tourists that swamp other locations like Grand Canyon, Zion, and Arches National Parks.

Our operating area is managed as Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Its 300,000 acres makes it about 40 percent of the size of Rhode Island. Needless to say, we have ample room to roam and explore here.

Itineraries depart from near the adorably quaint town of Escalante. For the duration of your trip, you will not cross a road or encounter a wheeled vehicle, and you probably will not see many (or any) other groups during the middle of the trip when we’re the furthest out.

The area has only one established hiking trail and only a few use trails, so we will often (or always) be off-trail. The routes are non-technical (i.e. climbing ropes, harnesses, and hardware are not required), but may have sections of Class 3 or Class 4 scrambling where a hand-line or pack-haul is helpful or necessary. Guides are expected to modify the route to suit the interests and abilities of their groups.

The Colorado Plateau is a unique environment, and thus has a host of unique challenges. We’ll help you learn to manage water, navigate in deep canyons and across featureless benches, find breaks between the geological layers, and cowboy camp under the stars.

Late-April and early-May is prime time in southern Utah. The temperatures are mild, the vegetation is vibrant green, water sources are reliable (though not abundant), and the weather is consistently friendly.

While this landscape is mostly flat, many of its miles are hard-won. The canyon bottoms are slow, especially if they are brushy or water-filled; and the benches above are covered in deep beach-like sand and are mostly shade-less.

Off-trail on Navajo Sandstone above the Escalante River

Brooks Range, Alaska

Client ratings of this location:

  • 2021: 4.83/5.0
  • 2020: cancelled due to Covid
  • 2019: 5.00/5.0

The Brooks Range is the greatest wilderness in North America, and this location is designed to provide a once-in-a-lifetime backpacking experience and a capstone experience for our alumni. We operate in Gates of the Arctic National Park, which is nearly four times larger than Yellowstone. It’s the program’s premier destination.

These mountains will redefine your concept of wilderness. The range is 1,000 miles long and usually about 100 miles wide; it has no trails, save for those made by wildlife, notably caribou; it’s intersected by just one road, the Dalton Highway (aka the Haul Road); and only one town sits firmly within its boundaries, Anaktuvuk Pass, a native village with a population of about 350. To access most areas of the park, it’s necessary to charter a bush plane that can land on lakes or natural gravel airstrips.

The lack of trails and roads in the Brooks Range, combined with a long list of challenges unique to the Arctic, add significant burden and risk in planning a trip here. More than any other location, the value of our service shines — we will secure the regional and bush flights, ensure that you have the appropriate gear, plot a route that is suitable and spectacular, and assemble a competent group of like-abled individuals.

The Alaskan wilderness is romantic, but it’s not easy. You should expect wet feet (everyday and all day), ankle-twisting tussocks, occasionally thick bushwhacks, and probably some cold-and-wet storms. Late-June is too early for nightmarish bugs, thankfully. Grizzly bears and wolves are around, but historically stay away from larger groups like ours.

Adventuring in Gates of the Arctic National Park, which is 3.4 times bigger than Yellowstone and which doesn’t have a single mile of man-made trail.

High Sierra, California

Client ratings of this location:

  • 2021: 4.73/5.0
  • 2020: 4.72/5.0
  • 2019: 5.00/5.0

The High Sierra is probably my favorite backpacking destination in the lower 48. The range is huge and intricate; the towering mountains are majestic; the off-trail travel is both blissful and exciting; road access is very limited; and the crowded, high-use areas are easy to leave behind.

No exaggeration, I think I could spend the rest of my life exploring it.

Our 2022 operating area includes Yosemite National Park, plus perhaps also Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park, Inyo National Forest (John Muir and Ansel Adams Wilderness Areas), and Stanislaus National Forest (Emigrant Wilderness), pending approval of our annual commercial permit applications.

Each location has classic High Sierra features like granite peaks and domes, glacier-carved valleys, alpine lakes, open forests, and sunny skies, but each has a distinct feel. Typical elevations range from 8,000 to 12,000 feet.

On the 5- and 7-day trips, our routes frequently involve “high route”-type travel, including sections of the Sierra High Route, Yosemite High Route, and Kings Canyon High Basin Route.

Historically, we have scheduled these trips for September, but this year they will be in July. We’re expecting more bugs, more people, and perhaps more monsoonal moisture, but we probably won’t have to contend with wildfires, wildfire smoke, or wildfire closures, which in recent years have been commonplace in late-summer.

Stubblefield Canyon, Yosemite National Park

Colorado Rockies

Client ratings of this location:

  • 2021 (first year): 4.69/5.0

We operated trips in Great Sand Dunes National Park for the first time in 2021, and we will be returning to this under-rated spot in 2022.

Its namesake dunes sit at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which tower 5,000 vertical feet above and which are normally still snow-capped in late-May. The dunes are the tallest in North America, and look as if they were transplanted from the Sahara — Star Dune gains 750 from its base to its crest!

Great Sand Dunes provides two classrooms in one location, making it ideal for our intro-level courses. In the Sangres, learn to navigate in mountainous topography, find good campsites among aspen and spruce, and manage colder temperatures and stormier weather, among other skills. Out on the dunes, learn to calculate your water needs, “cowboy camp” under the stars, and navigate across feature-less terrain.

This spectacular setting is not devoid of difficulties. The dunes consist of deep sand that saps hiking power, and are completely dry and shade-less. The mountains have firmer footing, abundant water, and more tree cover, but they’re no gimme either — we will climb from 8,000 feet and go up to nearly 11,000 feet, and they are rarely flat.

Hiking in the sand dunes, with the Sangre de Cristo mountains in the background

Olympic Mountains, Washington

  • New for 2022!

For several years I’ve been wanting to add a Pacific Northwest location, and we now have the client volume and administrative capacity to do it. These trips are scheduled for mid- and late-September, after summertime backcountry traffic has tapered off but before fall conditions have really taken hold in the mountains.

Olympic National Park consists of three unique ecosystems, and our 2022 itineraries will explore two: its old-growth forests and its alpine mountains. Eventually we may run trips along the Pacific coastline, but not this year.

The temperate rain forests on the west side of the park like the Hoh and Quinault receive about 150 inches of precipitation per year. The reward for backpacking in one of the wettest places in the US is seeing some of the largest trees in the world, including some that measure more than 20 feet in diameter.

Seven-thousand feet above these rain forests is Mount Olympus, the highest peak in the park. We won’t make it to the top of this glacier-covered massif, but we will climb other peaks and traverse nearby ridgelines, some with trails and others without.

Hurricane Ridge and Mt. Olympus

Appalachian Mountains, West Virginia

Client ratings of this location:

  • 2021: 4.67/5.0
  • 2020: 4.58/5.0
  • 2019: 4.50/5.0

If you love the Appalachian Mountains, want Appalachian-specific instruction, and/or cannot justify the travel expense or time for a 3- or 5-day trip out West, this is the location for you.

West Virginia is charmingly rural, and its backcountry areas are as wild as the Appalachians get. Mid-October is prime season here: the colors are turning, the bugs are fading, and the temperatures are comfortable both at night and during the day. It’s also the driest month of the year.

Seneca Creek and Dolly Sods have environmental conditions typical of both the southern and northern Appalachians. In the lower elevations, we find lush hardwoods and rhododendron tunnels, like in the Blue Ridge; and in the upper elevations, expect guard spruce and soggy peat bogs, like in Maine. The setting is ideal for teaching regional skills, like how to sleep in hammocks, manage rain and wet gear, and navigate through indistinct terrain with limited line-of-sight visability.

Monongahela National Forest is reasonably accessible from many eastern metro areas. Imagine a “box” with corners at New York City, Columbus, Knoxville, and Raleigh. Anything in that box is no more than about 5 hours away.

Sunset in Dolly Sods Wilderness — yes, in West Virginia