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“Mountains are not fair or unfair, they are just dangerous.”
— Reinhold Messner

Planning & Mindset

  • Never be afraid to go back.

  • Fire and water. Always have a plan.

  • Always have a paper copy.

  • You will never be terrified of those things which you have become educated on and practiced.

  • Always have a turnaround time and be ahead of the weather. Darkness and wetness can kill you.

  • Don’t ever let someone else modify your confidence. A mountain is no less dangerous. Seeing someone on your trail does not mean they we warding off threats. Take ownership.

Navigating & Routfinding

  • Constantly re-center yourself. Take your mind off the next photo opportunity, what’s for dinner, your loved ones. Focus on your next step, and the one after. Look at what is ahead, and how you might retreat.

  • Always look ahead of you to see where you’re going, and behind to see where you came from. You can always strategize a trip home now.

  • Take selfies with landmarks along the way. If you can, track your distance and altitude. Knowing how far away, and whether to go up or down, might just get you back home.

  • Sometimes the quickest and easiest route has a harder fall. Look behind you and ask yourself what the cost is of hitting a loose hold.

  • Bring ~10 feet of a neon streamer. Tie it to trees to retrace your path. Tie it to your bag if you’re leaving it somewhere (you can’t miss a bright orange streamer blowing in the wind).

Gear & Acroutrements

  • A backpack is like a house: you will fill it.

  • If there’s even a chance of getting wet, have a full outfit in a dry bag. Dry clothes can save your life.

  • Never hesitate to stop to re-lace your boots. A twisted ankle is more of an inconvenience.

  • Never sacrifice solid footing for staying dry. The summit will wait. Boots will air out. Broken ankles won’t.

  • Bring nylon and leather cord (~2m each). You might need to hang clothes, or secure some shale to a stick and make a spear. It doesn’t cost you anything in the scheme of things. You can buy this as shoe laces (you might need extras anyways), but you might want something more substantial. While you’re at it, learn a few knots! Bowline, square knot, slip knot.

  • There’s only one thing worse than smelling like bug spray: being covered in bugs your whole trip. Mosquito wipes are a really nice alternative.

  • A small beeswax candle can warm a tent or hands (and the heart!). Have a containment plan; open flames, especially in a tent, require your utmost attention. You can use the wax on cracked fingers, broken nails, or small cuts to keep them temporarily protected.

  • Your tent is basically a big shower curtain. Clean it periodically with an anti-mildew solution. Preferably, store it outside the bag, hung up. Otherwise, make sure it’s 100% dry and no creatures are living in the bag!

  • “Onesey” style pajamas are so cozy because they have no escape for body heat. Take the same approach to clothes on a cold night. Tuck your pant legs into your socks and tuck in your shirt. At the first sign of sweat or moisture, open your sleeping bag and air out.

  • Have a waterproof lighter and a match pack, because, why not?

  • Tell someone your backpack and tent color. Don’t make it hard for people to locate you.

  • Carry a weatherproof pen and small pencil (you can grab one from a golf course). Bring a few sheets of paper; you never know when you need to leave a note or need some kindling.

Nature Herself

  • You want bears to smell you, not your food. Hang your clothes upwind of your camp site, and food down wind.

  • If you’re quiet and still, nature will come to you. This is great for birds, bad for bears. If you’re not observing, talk and sing and announce you’re coming.

  • Big rocks are not necessarily steady rocks.

  • No matter how much you prepare to see a bear up close, it will be different. Rely on your training, try to put yourself in their position and understand why they are being aggressive.

  • Avalanches, shale or snow, can start at the bottom, right where you’re climbing. That big rock ahead of you can quickly become dislodged and plummet and tumble directly on your line.

  • If it’s green, it’s rooted and you can usually rely on grabbing it and holding. If it’s gray or brown, it’s dead, and you can only rely on gravity for it to keep its place.

Survival, Nutrition, & HYGIENE

  • There will be detractors and purists, but instant coffee can save lives. Okay, maybe not, but it still will enliven the spirit of any coffee drinker, hot over fire, or cold from the stream.

  • If you’re drinking stream water always look at it. Sounds simple, but even if you’re purifying, from a fast running stream, why take the chance if you see a little worm in there?

  • Hand sanitizer has its place: airports and outhouses. I actually don’t think you should use it in the outdoors, it just dries out your skin.

  • You can still comb your hair and shave in the wilderness. Cleanliness and tidiness are rewarded. The only contradiction to this rule is when packing canvas-like material. For the same reason you never store a parachute folded: over time seams will appear on your fold lines and weaken the material. Same goes for your tent, your outer shell jacket, etc. Pro tip: you don’t actually need to roll your sleeping bag. Just stuff it in the bag; the bag should have straps to help you compress it into a regular shape at the end.

A final word

Getting out there is not always about learning, but re-learning. About re-centering. Not everyone needs to find themselves but rather reclaim what they already know to be true. The wilderness gives us an appreciation both for Nature and the luxuries of civilized life. Thank her. Thank her for your safety. Thank her for her hospitality. We are reminded that we are from her, as we find purchase between our foot soles and the soil. When we force the eyes into a void, or whisk our sight across a vast mountain landscape, so we ask the mind to recalibrate. We know again, what is big and small. What matters. We feel an unnerving peace when we realize that life insurance and a bank account are not the foundation of life. Nothing can save us, nothing can liberate us, as much as ourselves. Death will come for you when she is ready—find humility in that inevitability. So when life is put in front of you, connect body straight to mind. Find the unfiltered state we yearn for in our poems. The delay of deep thought has no place in a struggle, and finding that connection reminds us of our power and will to survive. Make no mistake: we are not running from purpose here, but honing it sharp.