Skills

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Assignment: Create a topographic mapset with CalTopo

By Andrew Skurka / March 18, 2020 /

For at least five years, CalTopo has been my preferred map-making platform, and I use it exclusively for personal trips, guided trips, and guidebooks. The service was launched in late-2011 by Matt Jacobs, and its functionality eventually matched and then greatly surpassed my prior go-to, National Geographic TOPO! desktop software, which has since been discontinued.…

Gear List: Backpacking Foot Care Kit for blisters & maceration

By Andrew Skurka / February 19, 2020 /

How many hiking and backpacking trips have been set back, or even ruined, by blisters, maceration, and other podiatric woes? Quite a few — including some of mine, unfortunately. To eliminate or minimize these issues, I carry a dedicated foot care kit. This kit is a separate entity than my backpacking first aid kit. While…

Will I encounter snow? New snow survey tool

By Andrew Skurka / December 27, 2019 /

In early-December an alumnus, Rud Platt, shared with me a project that he’d been working on, snowEvaluator. Its chief function is creating snow coverage maps, i.e. where there is snow, or where there was snow on specific dates in the past. If you’ve ever been uncertain about whether you’ll encounter snow on an upcoming backpacking…

7 critical skills you could learn with us in 2020

By Andrew Skurka / December 16, 2019 /

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,…

Wilderness medicine training: When have I actually applied it?

By Andrew Skurka / October 1, 2019 /

Originally published June 3, 2019. This past weekend I took my biannual wilderness first responder (WFR) and CPR re-certification courses. Between refreshes on the patient assessment system, prerequisites for a FSA, and rescue breaths, I thought about the instances over the past eight years when I’ve had to apply my training. As a new WFR…

How to navigate || Part 5: Skills + knowledge checklist

By Andrew Skurka / September 1, 2019 /

Within a few days of starting my Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 2002, I learned dead-reckon navigation using my watch and the datasheet. With surprising accuracy, I could now monitor my hiking pace, pinpoint my location between known landmarks, and predict my arrival time at upcoming points of interest like water sources and shelters. On an…

How to navigate || Part 4: Navigator’s Mindset & “staying found”

By Andrew Skurka / August 30, 2019 /

With just a credit card and reliable internet connection, an aspiring navigator can acquire the proper maps, resources, and equipment. The final two steps to navigational proficiency require more intention, self-study, perhaps an evening or weekend course, and most importantly field practice. In other words, the process is more time-intensive, but also more fun. These…

How to navigate || Part 1: Navigator’s Toolkit + Navigation Mastery

By Andrew Skurka / August 22, 2019 /

Navigation is one of the most important backpacking skills, and certainly the most liberating. It allows you to drive your own adventure, rather than being a passenger. As a new backpacker with only rudimentary know-how, I was confined to backcountry thruways like the Appalachian Trail and high-use areas like Rocky Mountain National Park, where I…

New snowpack tool: Satellite imagery for CalTopo + Gaia GPS

By Andrew Skurka / July 3, 2019 /

The peak backpacking season is almost here, and many backpackers with planned trips in the Mountain West are asking the same question: “What is the current state of the snowpack?” This is especially the case in areas that had wet winters and springs, notably the High Sierra, Colorado, and Wyoming. Historically, I’ve relied on SNOTEL…

PSA | Hazardous High Sierra creeks: List, map & alternates

By Andrew Skurka / June 10, 2019 /

Every spring, creeks in the High Sierra rage with snowmelt. For one to two months, they are a grave danger, especially after wet winters like 2018-19. Backpackers can still hike, camp, and explore safely, but they should be aware of and respect this hazard. Swift and deep creek crossings will be found throughout the range,…