Since the end of the Alaska-Yukon Expedition over four years ago, hundreds of times I’ve been asked, “So what’s your next big adventure?”
Relative to what I had just done, and relative to some of my other big efforts like the Sea-to-Sea Route, Great Western Loop, or even Leadville 100, my answers always felt lame. “I’m writing a book.” “I’m planning a nationwide speaking tour.” “I’m guiding backpacking trips.” “I’m buying a house and getting married.”
I know, these endeavors were not lame, and in some respects their success is even more impressive than the wanderlust of my 20’s. Nonetheless, I feel as if for too long that nesting and career development have trumped a vital part of me: backpacking. While I’ve developed tremendously as a backpacking instructor, a backpacking writer, a backpacking speaker, and even a backpack hunter, my continued development as a pure backpacker has been far less satisfying.
This year that will change — or, perhaps more accurately, revert. But my next “big” adventure won’t be a single long one, but a series of short ones. That’s right, short is the new long.
Why short? As a practical matter, short trips — by which I mean about a week in duration — are less disruptive to the remainder of my life, notably my marriage. For others, vacation time is presumably a big constraint, too.
Equally important, however, on short trips I can maintain a level of overall awesomeness that cannot be rivaled by a longer itinerary. As an example, consider the 100-mile Wind River High Route, which features 60 miles of off-trail travel and two 13’ers, hovers usually between 10,000 and 12,000 feet, and never crosses a road. From start to finish, it’s simply world-class.
But after about week (at my pace), the topography has been exhausted. To the south lies the Great Divide Basin, a vast sagebrush-covered high desert crisscrossed by mind-numbingly boring dirt roads. The terrain to the north is more inviting, but days or weeks of relatively unspectacular “transition” miles (not to mention roads and towns) still stand between the Winds and other highlights of the northern Rockies like the Tetons and Beartooth Plateau. At least in the lower 48, the same is true of every other 5-star backcountry location. Go ahead, try to think of an exception.
I’m quite capable of hiking through such terrain, but at least for now I no longer choose to. Instead, I plan to dedicate all of the time I have available to other Wind River High Route-like efforts in the Escalante, Sangres, Front Range, Sequoia-Kings, Yosemite, and possibly even the Whites. Collectively, this list represents the “best of” — physically intense, mentally engaging backpacking routes that encompass a defined topographic feature (e.g. range, watershed) and that mile-for-mile offer an unrivaled wilderness experience.
Stay tuned for details, which I’ve intentionally kept minimal. It’s going to be an exciting year.