In 2021 we will operate in five (and perhaps six) locations.
Jump to (in chronological order):
- 2020: 4.81/5.0
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is one of many gems on the Colorado Plateau, but it thankfully lacks the hordes of tourists that swamp other locations like Grand Canyon, Zion, and Arches National Parks.
At 1.8 million acres, the Monument gives us many options to roam. We normally depart from near the adorably quaint towns of Escalante or Boulder, and for the duration of the trip you will not cross a road or see a wheeled vehicle; we rarely see other parties. The Monument has only one established hiking trail, so we will often (or always) be off-trail.
Our routes stay within the watershed or the Escalante River, a perennial tributary of the Colorado River that flows into Lake Powell. We’ll follow canyon bottoms, scramble across slick rock, traverse sandy benches, and pass by ancient rock images. We avoid technical canyoneering, but there may be a few spots where a pack haul or hand-line is helpful.
Late-April is prime time in southern Utah. The temperatures are mild, the vegetation is vibrant green, and water sources are usually reliable.
The Colorado Plateau is a unique environment, and thus has a host of unique challenges. We’ll help you learn to manage water, understand the underlying geology, and navigate in deep canyons and across featureless benches.
- 2020: 4.6/5.0
- 2019: 4.5/5.0
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. Early-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.
- 2020: cancelled due to Covid
- 2019: 5.0/5.0
The Brooks Range is the greatest wilderness in North America, and this location will provide a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We operate specifically in Gates of the Arctic National Park, which is nearly four times larger than Yellowstone.
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. The backbone of the Brooks is the northern Continental Divide, which divides tributaries of the Yukon River like the Koyukuk and Arctic rivers like the Noatak and Colville.
To access the mountains, we fly in a bush plane and land on a natural gravel airstrip or a lake. When the pilot takes off, it’s a bad time to realize that you forgot something!
The Alaskan wilderness is romantic, but it’s not easy. You should expect wet feet (constantly), 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.
- 2020: 4.7/5.0
- 2019: 5.0/5.0
The High Sierra is in my Top 3 for backpacking locations in the Lower 48.
The range is huge and intricate; the granite mountains are majestic; the off-trail travel is blissful; 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.
The 2021 trips will be in Yosemite National Park, which needs no introduction. Our itineraries typically start in Tuolumne Meadows, the heart of the Yosemite high country, and hover between 9,000 and 12,000 feet in the upper Merced or upper Tuolumne watersheds. The 5- and 7-day trips will follow sections of the Yosemite High Route.
The 3-day Fundamentals course will be in Great Sand Dunes National Park, southwest of Colorado Springs. The 5- and 7-day trips will be in southwest Colorado, in the San Juan Mountains.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
This under-rated National Park is a new location for us in 2021, and we think it will be perfect for our intro-level courses (and maybe eventually 5-day itineraries, too).
The ancient dunes are geologically unique and have a magnificent night sky. It’s a desert environment, forcing our groups to properly manage water and sun exposure. The eastern side of our operating area, in the lower elevations of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, offer a more classic mountain experience.
San Juan Mountains
- 2020: 4.85/5.0
The San Juan Mountains were a new location for us in 2020, and they were widely praised by both clients and guides. In fact, it was the top-rated location last year.
We operate in the upper headwaters of the Rio Grande River, which is partially encompassed by the Weminuche Wilderness. The area is significantly wilder than other parts of Colorado — to me, it feels more like Montana or Wyoming. The trail system is lightly maintained, and signage is unreliable; visitation is light, and backcountry traffic is minimal once off the Colorado and Continental Divide Trails. And evidence of primitive prospect mining from a century ago still abounds.
Late-July is prime time in the San Juan’s. Wildflowers will be at their peak; herds of elk will be actively grazing; the highest water sources will still be fresh and flowing; and the summer monsoon will just be getting underway.
Our permit with Rio Grande National Forest limits us mostly to on-trail travel, making it an ideal location for applicants aspiring for high-altitude thru-hikes in the Mountain West (like the CDT, PCDT, CT, or JMT) or for newer backpackers who are still learning the mechanics of backpacking and on-trail navigation.