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Tell me: Who’s your guiding dream team in 2020?

Tomorrow morning I drive up to Grand Lake, Colo., to greet the Adventure 2A and 2B groups as they exit from their respective 5-day outings. They’re our final set of trips this year, both in Rocky Mountain National Park and for the season.

For the first time since I launched trips under my own company in 2011, I sat out this block entirely. I helped send them off and was on-call throughout, but otherwise I was able to clean out the raised beds, sneak in a few adventure runs, and ponder the 2020 season.

Mary and Jessica out with the 2A group.

State and concerns

Today I’m very pleased with the service that we offer, of which the guide team is the most important part.

Quantitative evidence supports my assessment. In the post-trip survey we send to every client, this year 113 out of 118 clients have given us a perfect 5/5 score when asked, “Overall, how satisfied are you with your experience?” The remaining five gave us a 4/5 rating.

Our scores have been high since 2014, when I started surveying clients. But we’re operating on another level now.

To maintain this quality over the long-term, however, I need to start building up the guide roster and training new additions. My strongest and most experienced guides — notably, Alan Dixon, Brian Robinson, and Mike Clelland, as well as Buzz Burrell and Dave Eitemiller — are in their 60’s, or will be within a few years. Currently, they’re all remarkably fit and healthy, over-the-top enthusiastic about guiding, and performing at their best, but they have full lives and can’t be all places at all times. It will take new guides several years to learn the program and the craft so that we can maintain our current level of client satisfaction.

Hiring criteria

New guides must strengthen our core expertise. Specifically, they should:

  • Be passionate about teaching backpacking and wilderness skills, and
  • Have extensive experience with long-distance trails and high routes.

New guides should also help rectify or balance out some of our weaknesses, both major (e.g. our aforementioned demographics) and minor (e.g. our relative lack of hammock experience).

Finally, I’ll give bonus points to prospects who already have an audience. Mostly on my own, I have grown the program to its current level (this year: four locations, 20 trips, and 176 clients). I can grow it more, but I think I can grow it faster by finding partners.

Who are your dream guides?

I’m not taking applications. I’m just looking for names of strong candidates that I should consider. Leave a comment, telling me about backpackers that you know of, follow, have learned from, find entertaining, and admire, and that you think might make an excellent addition to our team.

Give me bloggers, vloggers, YouTube or Instagram sensations, writers, speakers, forum moderators, guides, community volunteers, SAR team leaders, up-and-coming thru-hikers, or obscure. The sole criteria is that you’d want to take a guided trip with them.

Posted in on September 17, 2019
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48 Comments

  1. Shawn Campbell on September 17, 2019 at 4:40 pm

    FX Gagnon – Outdoor Educator, Wilderness Guide, Instructor, SAR volunteer, Bilingual
    Tom Alexander – Outdoor Educator, Wilderness Guide, Instructor, best communicator I know
    Shawn Campbell(me) – Ski Patroller, Outdoor Educator, SAR volunteer, Avalanche Skills Instructor, LNT Master Educator

    • Andrew Skurka on September 17, 2019 at 5:12 pm

      Links to learn more and to contact?

  2. Rex on September 17, 2019 at 5:04 pm

    Dan Durston comes to mind. I think he fits your criteria. He might be too busy taking over massdrop.

    • Andrew Skurka on September 17, 2019 at 5:11 pm

      Yep, he’s a good one. Probably would have thought of him if I’d started my own list, but such suggestions make me feel much better about it.

    • Dgray on September 17, 2019 at 9:21 pm

      I was also going to mention Dan. Judging by his contributions on the UL subreddit and on Drop he seems a natural teacher.

  3. Jonathon Jolly on September 17, 2019 at 5:48 pm

    Tyler The Prodigy Lau
    CYTC finisher 2018

  4. Hunter Hall on September 17, 2019 at 6:20 pm
    • Trevor Nederlof on September 18, 2019 at 9:50 pm

      I second those two, love their info and experience winter camping!!

  5. Travis Briles on September 17, 2019 at 6:21 pm

    Roman Dial.
    Dave Chenault.

    • Hunter Hall on September 17, 2019 at 6:27 pm

      Roman Dial for sure.

    • Peter B. on October 16, 2019 at 2:39 pm

      Roman and Dave were first to come to mind, as well.

  6. Hunter Hall on September 17, 2019 at 6:28 pm

    For what it’s worth, I think if you added pack-rafting back into the mix it would be amazing.

    • Andrew Skurka on September 17, 2019 at 7:26 pm

      And also the biggest f’ing nightmare for us…

      • Hunter Hall on September 17, 2019 at 10:54 pm

        You’ve mentioned that in the past. Obviously I believe you have a good reason, I’m just curious as to why that’s the case?

        • Andrew Skurka on September 17, 2019 at 11:08 pm

          Logistical headache and added expense of procuring one raft setup per client, which with our current operation would mean 18 rafts. That’s, like, an entire bush plane of rafts.

          Bigger issue is liability. Most clients have no water, whitewater, or packraft experience. And it’s unrealistic to think that they can safely complete an Alaskan wilderness adventure with this starting point. Maybe if we could train them up to it with lower risk introductory steps, but that’s not really an option.

  7. Ben on September 17, 2019 at 6:34 pm

    If you’d consider going further afield, Abbie Barnes over the pond has been doing some awesome stuff for years. http://www.songthrushproductions.co.uk, and Song Thrush Productions on YouTube.

    • Andrew Skurka on September 17, 2019 at 7:26 pm

      I’ll look into it, but I think international airfare will nix the idea.

  8. Dgray on September 17, 2019 at 9:29 pm

    Cam Honan. The accent alone is worth the price of admission. He seems to be in the US often, but I don’t know where he lives these days.

    • Andrew Skurka on September 17, 2019 at 11:09 pm

      Yes, good one. Tried to get him last year year but scheduling got in the way. Will reach out again.

  9. Hunter Hall on September 18, 2019 at 9:30 am

    Do you have any thoughts on offering winter excursions? That might be an attractive option to a lot of people.

    • Nick on September 18, 2019 at 4:52 pm

      Can I nominate myself!? I’m a triple crowner now dabbling in the ultra world. I have done off trail stuff in Glacier and other ranges. I’m working towards the Glacier Divide Route maybe for next summer. I worked this past summer as a hiking and backpacking guide in Glacier as well.

    • Andrew Skurka on September 18, 2019 at 8:07 pm

      I used to offer a winter trip in Rocky, but (1) struggled to assemble a full group of like-abled clients, as I’m able to do with summer trips and (2) found it difficult to prepare them well enough, because it’s an accelerated curriculum schedule. So for the past few years, and for 2020, I’m planning to focus again on core competencies, which are 3-season backpacking trips mostly in the West, with some in Alaska and the East.

  10. Jeff on September 18, 2019 at 1:14 pm

    Forrest McCarthy
    Dan Durston
    Roman Dial
    Dave Chenault

  11. Jeff on September 18, 2019 at 1:15 pm

    Oh yeah, I forgot Luc Mehl

  12. Lynn Pettipaw on September 18, 2019 at 5:59 pm

    I’d love to see some women….
    Christy Rosander (Rockin)
    Erin Saver (Wired)

    • Andrew Skurka on September 18, 2019 at 8:04 pm

      Wrote Christy two days ago. I think she’s on the KCHBR right now. I wanted her to apply last year, but I think she was still working.

  13. Bob Nunnink on September 18, 2019 at 7:23 pm

    Kraig Adams. Has a lot to learn but will take your views to another level.

  14. Hunter Hall on September 19, 2019 at 12:23 am
  15. David Wagoner on September 19, 2019 at 5:45 am

    Hi Andrew,

    As a Skurka trip alum, I can vouch for the fact that your guides are amazing!

    I will second the nomination for Cam “Swami” Honan (https://www.thehikinglife.com/). He is a super nice guy, on top of hiking more than most humans, and all over the world.

    Also, Jupiter from Florida (http://jupiterhikes.com/).

    Likewise, I would hike with Lint (“Lint Hikes”) any day. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCm2A0MkU9e_0oVizHxaNZPQ

    If you could convince Shug (Sean Emery) to guide, there would be an enormous waiting list! He is known for his hammock expertise, tremendous humor, former career as a Barnum & Bailey Clown, musician, and currently has a solo show each year at the Minnesota State Fair. Oh yeah, he flies control-line airplanes too ;-). https://www.youtube.com/user/shugemery

    Lastly, what about Derek Hanson, author of “The Ultimate Hang” (http://theultimatehang.com/)?

  16. PS on September 19, 2019 at 9:11 am

    I’m just an average Joe but I keep an eye on three people regularly. You Mr. Skurka, of course, Jessica Mills (Dixie of Homemade Wanderlust) and Darwin Rakestraw (Darwin on the trail). They both have a bit of a following and are already making some degree of living from their trail experiences. Have zero clue if they’d be interesting or interested but you asked who we watch.

    Good luck on your young blood hunting!

  17. Bob S. on September 19, 2019 at 12:11 pm

    Aislinn Sarnacki, outdoor adventurer and staff writer at The Bangor Daily News.

    https://bangordailynews.com/author/asarnacki/

  18. Cameron Schaefer on September 19, 2019 at 1:37 pm

    I’ve got an AA in Outdoor Education (Colorado Mountain College – Breckenridge), and a BA in Adventure Education (Fort Lewis College – Durango).

    I’ve hiked the PCT, the AT, the CT, and have an FKT on the Superior Hiking Trail.

    I’ve been a whitewater rafting guide for 5 years on various class 4-5 Colorado waterways.

    I can put up 5.10’s on desert sandstone trad, and am an expert snowboarder with countless 100 day seasons.

    I love life, friends, family, and having fun!

    One of your guys, my inspiration and good friend, Joe McConaughy can vouch for my passion.

    My IG is mountainmancam

    Your a legend Mr. Skurka, and it would be the pleasure of a lifetime to work for you and learn from your expertise.

  19. Nick Cornell on September 19, 2019 at 9:53 pm
  20. Keela Potter on September 23, 2019 at 6:34 am

    Renee Patrick (“She-Ra”)! I heard her story on an episode of Backpacker Radio. She’s thru-hiked nearly everything and is now a coordinator for the Oregon Natural Desert Association.

    https://sherahikes.com/about/

  21. Bart on September 24, 2019 at 10:59 am
  22. Jay on September 24, 2019 at 9:20 pm

    Ultralight Jerk

  23. Eric on October 1, 2019 at 12:04 pm

    Andrew,

    As an alumni of this year’s Yosemite beginners trip, I thought the guides were amazing. If you’re looking for people for next year, I agree with a few others here that if you could coax Dave Chenault out for a trip or two, it would be a great opportunity to learn. His skillset and philosophy on travelling in the mountains is something I would look forward to.

  24. Matt Romanotto on October 9, 2019 at 3:15 pm

    Although he might need some more experience and training before becoming a guide, I’d love to take a trip with Second Chance Hiker. It’s been pretty inspiring seeing how he’s changed his life while hiking the PCT this year. And the dude just seems like a warm and lovable person. He could be a good asset for helping people who don’t think they belong in the wilderness (for fitness, health, or whatever reason) find the courage to take up backpacking as a hobby/sport.

  25. Rich Schreckengost on October 10, 2019 at 6:14 am

    Definitely Luc Mehl!

  26. Randy on November 11, 2019 at 2:17 pm

    I’m sure she’s already on Andrew’s radar, but Liz Thomas definitely should be mentioned.

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