Next week I’m heading to Colorado for a 5-day backpacking adventure with Andrew Skurka through Rocky Mountain National Park. I first met Andrew, along with Mike Clelland, in 2013 when I attended his Backpacking Fundamentals course in Washington’s Olympic National Park. I’d already done a fair bit of backpacking and didn’t really consider myself a novice so I was surprised and very happy that I learned so much during the 3-day trip. That’s why I’m back again this year.
Learning wilderness navigation was a big part of the fundamentals course. I’d had some exposure to map & compass work but most of my trips had been on-trail and fairly straight forward. Walking in the Olympics in spring involves a lot of snow-covered trails, making precise navigation much more important.
Andrew and Mike have very different teaching styles and they complement each other well. Andrew is analytical and breaks everything down into concrete logical steps. Mike is a more artistic out-of-the-box thinker. Between the two ways of explaining navigation – a concept that can be difficult for many to wrap their heads around – everyone got it.
Andrew covers pretty much every aspect of backpacking a beginner would need to learn to have a safe and enjoyable trip. From water treatment options to stream crossing techniques to campsite selection, there’s a lot of material packed into a few days.
But the outdoors makes for a great classroom. While there’s a lot to learn, Andrew and Mike made it fun. Everyone especially enjoyed Mike’s seminar on how to do your business in the woods. He’s a big fan of “natural toilet paper”. Grass, leaves, rocks, snow… they’re all your friends.
Andrew provides everyone with breakfast and dinner. Despite fritos being a key ingredient in a number of dishes, the meals were very tasty and filling. You’re unlikely to go hungry on one of Andrew’s trips.
I find I learn best in challenging environments. Choosing to hike over a big pass in the Olympic Peninsula in June definitely qualifies. The weather was consistently cold and wet. The humidity is so high you never really dry out.
Another significant focus of the trip was learning to walk efficiently over spring snow without the added weight of boots and crampons. We walked on firm snow much of the second day, getting lots of practice picking the right slope angle, kicking in steps just big enough, and avoiding spots where we might slip or sink in. I’m expecting a lot more snow this year in Colorado. We’ll likely be walking on consolidated snow for much of the five days and I expect we’ll be sleeping on it as well.
If you’re a novice backpacker or someone looking to quickly gain new outdoor skills, a trip with Skurka is a great investment.
I’m looking forward to a fun trip next week and I’ll report back with photos and hopefully some entertaining stories.