The Death of Backpacking

I don’t think I will ever be sad about the fact that Will is from San Diego. Ever.

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We spent the past weekend in So Cal during a whirlwind trip – we flew out Friday night and came back late on Sunday. Turns out, TWO of our friends were getting married on Saturday so we decided that a mini vacation was in order.

We tried our best to attend both ceremonies, but could only do so much. As a result, we made it to the ceremony of the first wedding, left, and headed north in order to catch the reception of the second. It wasn’t perfect, but Will and I were both so glad that we were able make it for their big days!

Wedding

Anyway.

As I was curating the internet yesterday, trying to catch up on must-read stuff that I missed over the weekend, I stumbled across an article shared by Semi-Rad. In a nutshell, the author poses an interesting question: Is backpacking dying?

Upon reading the title, I grew indignant and irritated. Who wrote this thing?! Why would they even ask that question? Backpacking is alive and prospering, of course!

{Because naturally, my hobbies are everyone’s favorite….}

However, I kept reading and the well-written piece caught my attention. And then, I read some more and realized the author has some valid points. It got me to thinking: who do I see on the trail?

Death of Backpacking

Photos by my beloved. Check out his new IG account!

Here in the 303, I feel like backpacking is alive, kicking and revving its engines. We always see other people out and about, tents pitched in far oft fields and rogue hikers scrambling along the ridgelines to towering peaks. However, the more I thought about it, I realized this:

I’m definitely one of the youngest out there!

Sure, we see dozens of people on trail and many of them are in our age bracket. However, at 32-years-old, I’m not exactly the sprightliest of spring chickens, you know? I racked my brain, trying to remember the sight of teenage groups or even college kids. And you know what? I really can’t remember seeing too many of the sub-25 variety.

What is that?!

Death of Backpacking

As the author notes, the next generation is more interested in sports that involve obvious sources of adrenaline: hucking cliffs on skis, dirt biking across deserts, and rock climbing gnarly pitches all come to mind. Are those sports awesome? Of course they are {minus the dirt biking, but don’t get me started on my hippy, don’t-destroy-the-environment tendencies!} However, it does seem that the younger crowds aren’t as interested if a GoPro can’t snag sweet, puke-inducing YouTube footage.

Death of Backpacking

Our cozy home for three nights

Why is that? For the younger generations, I think the outdoor gene is sadly missing in its entirety. We’ve all heard it before, but video games and iPads are replacing that time when I used to be playing in the mud, creating “pottery” for my mom. And for the college-age crowd? I think they are just misinformed!

I hear so often that backpacking doesn’t have the “adrenaline payoff” that other sports do, and honestly, I think people are doing it wrong! Sure, the stereotypical backpacking trip appears relatively mundane: you shuffle a few miles into the silent woods, schlepping an insanely heavy pack, only to sit by your tiny tent, content with your own thoughts, while sleeping uncomfortably and singing kumbaya. Does that sum it up?

Death of Backpacking

Who says you can’t backpack in the snow?!

Backpacking is so much more than that! Yes, the pack can be absurdly heavy but the sense of accomplishment you feel after lugging that behemoth up the side of a mountain is beyond comparison. And the wildlife you encounter? Nowhere else will random Grizzlies and coyotes and mountain goats wander up to your tent, solely for the sake of curiosity. And as for adrenaline? The sport offers it up in spades! Some of the best climbs, peaks and vistas can only be accessed from a remote basecamp. Sure, you can nab the easy summit with everyone else who drove up from Denver, but why not check out the views from somewhere that few have visited?

Maybe the upcoming generations aren’t interested, but maybe they just aren’t exposed to this stuff either. Dave Skinner wrote an awesome post on Trek Tech yesterday, expounding on his methods for helping his children love the wild. Sure, they aren’t anything extreme, but maybe one of those smaller microadventures will spark something inside the mind of his kids. And maybe, we’ll have the next John Muir on our hands!

Death of Backpacking

As for me? You can find me outside, as far from society as my legs will take me. Because that’s where I find my adrenaline.

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If you’re a backpacker, what are your thoughts? I’d truly love to know.

If you’re not, why not? Does it sound boring to you? Or does sleeping in the dirt just not ring your bell? 

 

Ski Mountaineering: Tyndall Glacier via Flattop Mountain Trail

A few weeks ago, Will asked me if I wanted to head out for a hike over the Independence Day weekend. We were stuck in the city due to work obligations, so I readily agreed. A Saturday morning hike sounded fantastic! I asked him a few questions but didn’t really pay too much attention to the details {typical!}. I do remember him using the phrases easy hike and skiing, but that’s about it. I had agreed to a little backcountry skiing, but let the matter drop. Will is the ultimate planner and it was nice to just let him take the reigns.

{Lesson learned. I will pay attention to the planning process after this in order to prepare for my own ass kicking!}

Friday night arrived and instead of watching fireworks, we were packing up our backpacks in the basement. It was just a day hike, so the clothing was minimal. However, there was apparently a glacier somewhere that Will wanted to ski: Tyndall Glacier. What did this mean? We were hiking our backcountry ski gear up the mountain!

Tyndall Glacier

This smile was forced. I was in the pain cave!

Located in Rocky Mountain National Park, Tyndall Glacier is a year-round snowfield that lies against the ridge between Flattop Mountain and Hallett Peak. I rarely venture into the park since I can’t bring Tally, so I was eager to check out a new area. We parked our car at the Bear Lake Trailhead around 7am on Saturday morning. Immediately, I noticed that there were a ton of people – definitely a holiday weekend!

We both managed to fit our ski boots in our packs with the rest of our extra clothing and rigged an A-frame with our skis. All things considered, it was a relatively comfortable {yet heavy} setup.

Tyndall Glacier

We chose to follow the Flattop Mountain trail up to the glacier. This is also the trail that leads to Hallett Peak, a very popular hike. Because of this, tons of people were on the trail and you can only imagine the looks, stares, questions and smiles we received in regards to our skis. After all, it was a bright and sunny day and I was hiking in a tank top….with skis on my back!

The first mile clicked off easily but then the elevation gain started to kick in. I was struggling with the pack I was using since it was awkwardly digging into my lower spine; I felt like I had an abnormally placed hunchback. I had no idea why it was doing that, but it was causing me a ridiculous amount of pain. However, we eventually stopped halfway up the hike, quickly found the cause of the problem, and I was able to continue a lot more comfortably.

{That’s a relative term; carrying skis and boots is never comfortable!}

We trucked along, soaking in the views in an effort to ignore the weight on my shoulders. When I had seen the four mile one-way tally, I had mistakenly assumed it would be a relatively easy hike. However, the elevation gain was legit and we clocked 3,000 feet of gain in just four miles.

Tyndall Glacier

We finally reached the top of Flattop and caught our first glimpse of Tyndall Glacier. Fortunately, there was still plenty of snow!

Tyndall Glacier

Tyndall Glacier

{I may or may not have threatened a tantrum if we hiked up there with our skis and couldn’t find a single glacier to ski.}

After an absurdly long lunch break where we snoozed in the sun while watching fat marmots play, we ambled up to the glacier to do a little scouting. At first, we couldn’t find a good entrance point. However, we walked around the far side as if we were hiking to Hallett and eventually find a perfect place to drop in.

Tyndall Glacier

At some point, the dozens of people on the ridge noticed our skis and we became quite the spectacle! I was trying to ignore the growing audience by focusing on my skis and boots, but it made me slightly uncomfortable. I understood the oddity of what we were doing, but I was nervous that their peering eyes would make me screw up. This glacier was steep! There were a half dozen guys sitting on the rocks directly behind me, and I assured them I wouldn’t be doing anything worth watching. “I promise guys, I’m not that cool! No flips or tricks, just going to ski!” They told me they were from out of town so any skiing in July was awesome to see – and could they take my photo?!

Agh! I eventually shut them all out by shoving my ski helmet on my head and focusing on Will. I had thrown on a lightweight Adidas shell, but vetoed any gloves, goggles or pants; I was rocking some capris with ski boots and sunglasses for an uber wicked tan!

{For the record, you should see my calves. Worst tan line ever!}

According to beta, skiers right of the glacier is the steepest with a narrow couloir that runs about 50 degrees. I looked at it and it was definitely doable—albeit wicked steep! After Will’s three knee surgeries, we’re hoping he can avoid a fourth, so we moved down towards the center of the glacier and picked our lines. Based on the beta we had read prior to the trip, I think I skied a line that was around 45 degrees.

Naturally, Will wanted to grab some photos of me while skiing, so he traversed the mountain a bit to get into position. Once he was ready, I launched!

Tyndall Glacier

Vroooooom!

It took two turns before I got a good feel for the snow. It was incredibly soft and a bit slushy, and I even managed to spray a whole lotta crystals into my ski boots! Regardless, it was an absolute blast and so worth the climb!

Tyndall Glacier

Tyndall Glacier

See me way down at the bottom?

Will zipped down after me with a huge grin spread across his face. We considered a second line and began boot packing back up the glacier to obtain the ridge and nab a second run. However, we changed our minds after 10 minutes of climbing: the glacier was steep and slippery and without crampons, neither of us were comfortable.

Tyndall Glacier

This about sums it up.

Instead, we headed skiers left across the snow until we caught up with the talus field.

Tyndall Glacier

You can see our lines on the glacier behind me!

From there, we spent a frustrating 30 minutes climbing over boulders and skirting around loose debris. Usually, I am sure footed in boulder fields but I had the wrong shoes on and was not used to carrying the skis. As a result, I kept smacking my ski tips against rocks and getting caught in between boulders. In short, I was a flipping nightmare!

Tyndall Glacier

Don’t fall, don’t fall, don’t fall…

Tyndall Glacier

That’s Tyndall behind me and Hallett Peak on the left. You can still see our lines!

Tyndall Glacier

We finally obtained the ridge just in time to see the black clouds begin rolling in; no more skiing for us! We hightailed down the mountain, knowing that the summit was the last place to be in a lightning storm. Fortunately, we managed to zip below tree line before the storm arrived. Unfortunately, we still had two miles left when the hail began smashing into our bodies!

Tyndall Glacier

Death clouds = time to go!

Tyndall Glacier

Seriously, that storm was a beast.

At that point, we knew we were safe and close to the car so other than the painful stings of the ice and the chilly wetness from the rain, we were alright. Per usual, the storm lasted for 20 minutes—long enough to soak us!!—before sun came out and dried us off.

Tyndall Glacier

That’s Emerald Lake, about 1,200 feet below

Final Stats for the Adventure:

Total Mileage: 10 miles RT

Elevation Gain: ~3,500 feet, including the climb back up from the base of Tyndall

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Want to see the rest of Will’s photos from the adventure? He uploaded the entire album to his website; go check it out and let me know which one is your favorite!

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